Christopher Pike,
(Tor, 2005)

Alosha is the first book in a series of young adult novels centered around the adventures of 13-year-old Alison "Ali" Warner.

Ali lives with her truck driver father in the small town of Breakwater, which is nestled between the ocean and the snow-capped summit of Pete's Peak. Ali's mother was killed in a strange car crash a year prior to the opening of the tale and Ali is still coming to grips with her absence. Filling out the main cast are Ali's very good friends, Cindy and Steve, plus another schoolmate, Karl, on whom Ali has a teenage crush.

Ali is passionate about the forest surrounding her hometown and wants to protect it from what she sees as unnecessary logging taking place on the lower slopes. It's a passion her friends don't fully share, and in the opening chapters of Alosha Ali finds herself biking up to the logging camp solo, planning to stage a one-girl protest. Suddenly her world is thrown into terrifying turmoil when Ali is trapped by a landslide she believes was purposely triggered -- by a bigfoot, or three.

Ali manages to escape and proceeds to convince her friends to help her document the existence of the bigfoot family. But things just keep getting stranger, and more dangerous, as first a leprechaun, then fairies, trolls and elves take aim at Ali and her pals and their emerging quest to save the human world from destruction.

There are a lot of fantasy novels aimed at teen and pre-teen readers, and standing out from the crowd takes a mixture of authorial skill and good luck. Christopher Pike has been writing for the YA audience for some 20 years so I expected his narrative skills to be more than adequate to carry this story. But I was underwhelmed by Alosha, which struck me as an entirely ordinary book. The characters are reasonably well crafted but no more than that. The plot is standard fantasy fare and the landscape, always an important component in a fantasy quest, is too sketchily presented. The combination of these components adds up to a distinctly bland book.

Pike doesn't manage to make up for the deficiencies in his plotting through stylistic panache. The writing is competent, but it doesn't excite; Pike seems overly fond of similes. Although, thankfully, he uses the word "like" correctly, it's scattered through the text with a frequency that might well sound completely comfortable to today's teens and tweens. I found the reliance on this particular figure of speech a bit tedious, however. And there are too many instances of similes that fail to clarify the image -- "The white mist rushed toward her like steam blown from the cheeks of an ice monster." Right, now I know what it looks like.

As the novel moves toward its inevitable climax the instances of convenient plot twists and simplistic characterization increase considerably. Villains make stupid mistakes or give in too easily under the pressure of Ali's developing competence with magic. The whole thing feels rushed, as though Pike was over-anxious to move on to the second book in the series. I don't think I'll be rushing out to pick it up. There's too much out there that would elicit a more enthusiastic review blurb than the one that graces Alosha's cover, "[Has] many plot twists and plenty of excitement."

by Gregg Thurlbeck
17 February 2007

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