Friday, August 13, 2010

The Pack

The Pack


L.M. Preston
YA Science Fiction
Phenomenal One Press

Before I write my thoughts on the book - take a look at the cover. I mentioned this before, but I really like the cover. Based on her parent's descriptions, I would have liked to see slightly darker skin pictured on Shamira, but the rest is pretty cool. I love the sky color, the cloud colors, the color of the ground, and that's a pretty wicked looking blade she has there. Oh, and I would have made her bottom bigger too, you'll understand when you read a little further on. But, love the hair and the general feel or atmosphere of the cover. It looks like it's hot there, like it's arid and sandy and .... hello MARS!

The Pack - there's a good plot to this story, and some very interesting characters. The main character is a 16 year old blind girl named Shamira who has a younger brother, mom and dad. Get this - They live on MARS. I love this concept. Apparently Mars is being colonized; a kind of experiment - colonized with minor petty criminals who have shown that they can behave.....

Shamira's mother and father are Elites, on a security task force, in charge of a sector of Mars. I kind of felt bad for Shamira, because her mother comes across as angry and cold, very disapproving of Shamira. Dad, comes across a little warmer. But wait - it seems that Shamira has a problem with listening to her parents. When they want her to stay in, she goes out to search out criminals.....

Shamira is searching out criminals because kids and Elite personnel are being kidnapped. There is a "black market" going on, drugs for sale and all kinds of illicit things are going on. Shamira has honed her own senses to the point where she doesn't really need real eyesight to get around. Her father has trained her in self defense, and Shamira has enhances strength - more than her parents seem to be aware of. Shamira also suffers from intense rage, and this worries her. Shamira feels compelled to try to figure out what's going on and how to stop the kidnappings. This feeling of responsibility is amplified when the crimes come close to home. Throughout all of this, Shamira is trying to control her rage.

There's a lot more to this novel, but I don't want to put in spoilers - Hope I haven't already. There are however, lots of fun gadgets that are in use on Mars. There are generators that emit oxygen. There are "smart houses" - the rooms sense when someone enters, and adjusts lighting and temperature automatically. Shamira has a motocycle that she can drive even though she's blind. The "cars" and cycles not only drive on the ground, but they can be FLOWN. This is so cool. There are other teens in this book that are improving on gadgets and inventions that help with strength, speed, hearing - etc. These gadgets and "toys" are a science fiction buff's dream. Lots of fun things. I love L.M. Prestons's imaginative use of all these gadgets.

I enjoyed the story, there was an excellent plot twist, lots of action and fight scenes - even Shamira's rage was kind of fun, when she used it right. Shamira's personality was a bit prickly - a result of the way other kids treated her as she was growing up (and possibly her mother's coldness). I don't know if it was purposely done, but the mom seriously came across as hard-hearted and angry for most of the book. Shamira's mistrust of others affected the way she relates to everyone that she meets and has to deal with, except for her little brother. I liked that Shamira was forced to rely on others at one point, though she struggle with it and does NOT want to work with anyone, she did learn some valuable lessons about trust and friendship. There is even the barest beginnings of romance - rather sweetly done with a light touch.

I've read a few other reviews, where reviewers question her parents' decision to put Shamira through an operation to cure her blindness. This was interesting for me, because Shamira was hesitating - not really wanting to have her eyes fixed, showing an understandable resistance to change when she thought she was getting along just fine without "real" eyesight. But there are some definite benefits for her after the operation, which come into play throughout the book.

It's not until Shamira is able to fully visualize her parents that you learn that Dad is dark brown, and Mom is golden brown - and that's pretty much it for the skin color of the characters. It's mentioned as a descriptive device - Shamira loves the color of her dad and her mom, she's surprised at size of her "bump" in the back, but soon comes to accept it. Refreshingly - these Mars inhabitants have so many other things to worry about, skincolor or ethnicity seems to be a non-issue (which is how things SHOULD be - I'm this color, you're that color, he's another color, big deal). It feels like a subtle message of acceptance to me, which I liked.

The author wrote this book with middle grade students in mind. But be aware that there might be some middle grade students that just aren't ready for the mature content of the book. Other than the fights, there are no graphic scenes - but there are inferences to sexual abuse (very subtle inferences - the language used is pretty benign, but if you're aware of what goes on, then you catch on to what's happening) , to child slavery and outright killing - with revenge being mentioned as a reason. It's kind of understandable in the context; Shamira is ready to kill for her family members, but it might not be the best message to put out for certain tweens - or teens. For a well adjusted teen with common sense - no problem. But for some who might be super sensitive, or on the verge of exploding themselves - it's good to be aware. It could lead to some very good talks about ethics, how to handle intense feelings of rage, and revenge....Just feel the need to put it out there. I would totally have let any of my own children read this, but I know there are other parents who really worry about this. On the other hand, there are lots of kids who have already seen movies such as Saw and Hostel, so this could be a non-issue for many. For that matter, there are plenty of children who have lived through some very intense situations themselves. Again, I only mention this, because lately I've been surprised by some of the complaints from student parents regarding the content of books that I wouldn't have had any problem with my children reading.

The story has the feel of a comic book - I mean this in a good way. It's like a comic book that has come to life in a good story, with very dramatic things going on, the gadgets that are used, the utter bravery of the children trying to save other children, the clear emergence of a hero and the lessons that Shamira and even her own parents have to learn. I do like the messages brought by this novel. Children and teens are pushing themselves to the limit to help others, even when they are afraid. Shamira has to learn that her utter distrust of others could actually harm her cause, and also learns that not only does she herself has some flaws, but others have strengths that she needs. Everyone finds their own strengths and flaws.

The dialogue between characters was pretty believable with only a couple of instances that I thought a teen wouldn't use a certain type of wording - but I've noticed this with quite a few YA authors (the few that I've read anyway). Sometimes it seems an author will slip up and have their teen character use language that a professor might use. Thankfully this only occurred a few times - the rest of the time Shamira and others sounded reassuringly like real kids. Of course, these kids ARE children of scientists and well educated that could explain that.

The only other issue that someone else might have is that The Pack would have benifitted from better editing. Now, I'm no author (HAH! not even close!) or editor (I probably need to be edited!) and so this type of thing won't usually bother me, or take away my enjoyment of a book. But I know some people are real sticklers for this, and I do wish publishers that handle the independent writers would provide better editing for their authors. I have no idea how this really works, though - so when I read an independently published book, I try to take this into account and focus on the story - not the editing. The book would have to have quite a few problems with spelling and format to cut my enjoyment, and The Pack has only a few issues with editing/spelling. To be totally honest, lately, there have been a few books put out by major publishing houses that seem to have missed out on some editing and spelling.

My final verdict - Good Story, exciting adventure scenes, good fight scenes, likeable and unlikeable characters (a plus in any novel), fun gadgets, superhero comic book feel to the story, with a light hand in the romance department, strong female characters as well as positive male characters. Glad I read the book.

Interesting note - L.M. Preston's husband founded Phenomenal One Press, using L.M. Preston as his first client. They have a goal of adding more YA authors to their publishing. Hard work and perserverance on both parts of this team is beginning to pay off.

Other books by L.M. Preston
Explorer X - Alpha - available now
Bandits - coming February 2011
Explorer X - Beta - coming July 2011

Reading Challenges
POC Reading Challenge
2010 Speculative Reading Challenge
2010 Young Adult Reading Challenge


  1. Glad that you enjoyed it. I'll be looking forward to reading my copy.

  2. I'm interested in her Explorer X books now.