So, this is another in my series of "looking for hidden gems in the vast, fetid self-publishing swamp." This time I am checking out L.M. Preston, who has created her own company called Phenomenal One Press. Supposedly they accept submissions from other authors, but right now it seems to be just a website for selling Preston's books. But YA science fiction? Sounds awesome.
Sadly, the bad Poser-art cover did not inspire confidence, nor did this description from the publisher's site:
Shamira is considered an outcast by most, but little do they know that Shamira is on a mission. Kids on Mars are disappearing, but Shamira decides to use the criminals most unlikely weapons against them, the very kids of which they have captured. In order to succeed, she is forced to trust another, something she is afraid to do. However, Valens her connection to the underworld of her enemy, proves to be a useful ally. Time is slipping, and so is her control on the power that resides within her. Yet, in order to save her brother's life she is willing to risk it all.
When you have obvious grammatical and punctuation errors in the book summary, it doesn't bode well for the contents.
You can order a softcover copy of The Pack (for a wopping $11.69 on Amazon -- pretty stiff for a self-pubbed book), but a PDF preview is available online.
In chapter one, we are introduced to Shamira, a blind girl who walks around on Mars waiting to be jumped by rapists so she can beat them up with her blind-girl martial arts skills. We're told it's Mars, and there's a mention of oxygen generators, but otherwise there's nothing in the first chapter to indicate we're not in Chicago or Baltimore or any other urban setting. No mention of lighter gravity, technology (besides the "oxygen generators") or, you know, why you have dark, empty streets on Mars that are prowled by would-be rapists.
Suddenly, out of the stillness she heard someone approach, and she turned slightly to judge who it was. Shamira could tell the footsteps weren't friendly, but then again, neither was Shamira. A mischievous smile crossed her face that some would mistake for innocence, the furthest thing from her mind. The footsteps continued to fall quickly toward her, and Shamira slowed down to lure them closer. She knew that he came. Only one scum for my trap today. She had dealt with others before, but tonight, she only had time for one.
He grabbed her by the neck. Typical. Why do they always go for my neck? This is too easy. She smiled to herself again, and figuring she wouldn't work too hard to bring him down, she swallowed in preparation for the attack. Restlessness rose in her in anticipation of the fight. Time was slipping away, and she had to get home before her mother did. This has to go quickly, she thought regrettably, for she hated to rush things. She waited to see what her captor had planned for her, and she stood seemingly docile with his thick arm circled around her neck.
How does a blind girl judge who someone is by their footsteps, and why does she need to turn slightly to do it? Well, apparently she can tell whether or not footsteps are friendly by their sound.
Apparently there are lots of scum wandering around Martian neighborhoods grabbing people by the neck. But despite being restless and in a hurry, she stands there waiting to see what he does next. Uh, what?
What he does is utter Menacing Bad Guy Dialog:
"So what do I have here? Ooh, I've hit the jackpot tonight, baby!" He shoved his nose in her hair and sniffed, "A pretty, sweet-smelling girl all alone. You have no choice, you know. You're coming with me. I have got plans for you, sweet thing," he growled in her ear. She inhaled the smell of his putrid breath. The coarse hair on his arms scratched her neck. She squirmed away from him a bit, and his bulging belly pushed against her back.
Note that the comma after "sniffed" is not my typo; it's what's in the manuscript.
So, how does she feel the hair on both his arms? Never mind, I'm still wondering why this is set on Mars.
Does Shamira now go all Buffy on Fat Martian Rapist? Not yet:
"Hey! Stop dude! Let her go!" She heard a voice in the distance. Shoot! she said to herself, knowing she would have to play helpless now. She had traced this creep for weeks, and now some goofball would-be hero would mess it up for her. Dang it! No one must know, she reminded herself, for no one could know what she did when she was alone. Great, I won't get any information out of this creep tonight, she grimaced.
"Dude"? "Shoot"? "Dang it"? "Goofball"? Those Martian kids and their jivin' slang!
Preston's prose is full of all kinds of amateurish writing mistakes. Repetitive, descriptions that don't make sense, overuse of adverbs and adjectives, telling-not-showing, awful dialog that repeats what the narrator has already told us, bad attribution tags, and fight scenes that seem to be happening in slow motion as the protagonist thinks about everything under the sun, including exactly how she's going to beat up the bad guy before each move.
Unfortunately, the rest of the 20 page preview is just as awful, if not worse. Shamira stomps the bad guy and head-butts him, but then lets her "rescuer" beat him up and think he saved her, and then she gets angry at him when he tries to walk her home, punches him, and thinks about how some day she's going to beat him up because she sensed he pitied her. Then she goes home and we learn her parents are members of the Elite Force who track down criminals on Mars, and lately the children of Elite Force members are being kidnapped, which is why Shamira's dad is working late again. (Mom stayed home to cook spaghetti for her and her brother.) Shamira has been investigating on her own because she wants to put a stop to it, but she gets in a fight with her mother, who knows nothing about Shamira's activities and wants to put a tagger on Shamira so she'll know where she is. Mom also says there is a "new secret organization" responsible for all the kidnappings...
So, Shamira, a blind girl who is the daughter of Elite Force agents, is wandering around alone at night when it's known that "a new secret organization" is kidnapping the children of Elite Force agents, and her parents have no idea that she actually has mad superhero martial arts skillz and...
Groan. I like a kick-ass heroine, but this is obviously written by someone who got her sense of plotting and worldbuilding from, I dunno, Naruto or something. It's cartoonish, it's ridiculous, and I still have no idea why it's set on Mars, since aside from the one mention of "oxygen generators" it might as well be modern day Earth. Also, no mention of how Shamira navigates. I guess she has sonar like Daredevil or something.
If you're going to make the main character blind, tell us how this affects her and how she overcomes this limitation. It doesn't seem to affect Shamira at all -- if she didn't occasionally remind us how much she hates being pitied for being blind, it would be easy to forget she's blind entirely. So apparently that character trait is just something the author gave her to make her even more awesome -- she's not just a teenage girl who secretly goes around beating up grown men, she's a blind teenage girl who goes around beating up grown men!
The rest of the excerpt was similarly full of dire prose; it's about the quality of your average fan fic on a moderated site (i.e., readable -- barely -- but awful). Preston obviously has not paid an editor; I have to wonder if she even has beta readers.
Verdict: Fail. I wouldn't have continued reading even if it was free, and I can't imagine who would pay for the rest of it after reading the excerpt.
ETA: According to (presumably) Preston or one of the other principles in a comment below, Phenomenal One Press is not owned and operated solely by her. Also, I corrected the mistaken reference to ebooks, since they don't sell their books in digital format at this time.