Ace, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-441-01503-0
The cover of Talia Gryphon’s debut urban fantasy novel Key to Conflict is beautiful enough to prompt me to buy it without even checking out the content or the back cover. I suppose, therefore, I have only myself to blame when I all but get nosebleed while trying to finish this book without passing out on the couch.
It’s not hard to discover even on Laurell K Hamilton‘s official website that Talia Gryphon is the pseudonym of Ms Hamilton’s ex-bodyguard who managed to get her former employer to give her an audience with Ms Hamilton’s editor and obtained a three-book contract as a result. I learn all this while looking up “Talia Gryphon” on Google because I have to know how this book came to be published and priced at $7.99 to boot. One thing I have to say, for all her faults as an author, Ms Hamilton sure looks after her people very well. Anyway, Ms Gryphon’s connection to Ms Hamilton explains why this book reads like an utterly embarrassing reject-drawer material by someone trying too hard to emulate the post-pornography Anita Blake formula.
Gillian Key is easily one of the most obvious Mary Sue heroines around. She’s supposedly this tough kickass Marine who is also a psychologist. A professional vampire therapist, to be exact. Seriously, you have to read how Gillian discovers at a young age that she is born to be a shrink because that scene still makes me howl with laughter just remembering it. It’s in the first chapter, provided you can get past the author thanking Ms Hamilton’s infamous aide Darla Cook for helping her edit this book. I know. I’m still amazed that I didn’t drop the book there and then and run for the hills. Oh, and Gillian is also an empath. And beautiful, of course.
At any rate Gillian is asked to provide her amazing shrink skills for Aleksei Rachlav, a vampire in the Carpathian region (which I understand was discovered by Christine Feehan in 1999 and has become a popular tourist destination for authors hoping to make a quick and big buck ever since). This is only a cover for Gillian to investigate some paranormal rebellion that may or may not be going on. But really, the plot is just an excuse for Gillian to be soon indulging in all kinds of kink with Aleksei and his brother Tanis as well as a ghost called Dante. The last allows Gillian to indulge in invisible-lover sex straight out of a bad B-grade exploitation movie that culminates with Tanis nearly buggering poor Dante in his excitement from seeing Gillian apparently humping the thin air.
Throughout it all, Gillian is such a spectacularly useless and stupid heroine, constantly getting into all kinds of absurd situations from her stupidity, even as Ms Gryphon insists again and again that Gillian is one tough and intelligent heroine. Gillian needs to be rescued again and again by her harem of undead vibrators. The only thing good I can say about her is that, unlike Anita Blake, Gillian seems to genuinely enjoy having sex. She’s having sex here because sex is fun and the critters are hot instead of laboring under the insulting premise that she has to have sex with three girly men with knee-length hair every nine seconds or someone will die.
The writing is atrocious. There is zero character consistency. Characters often behave erratically and illogically – with Gillian leading the parade of brain-damaged monkeys – often solely to allow the author to get her characters to have sex. The sex scenes, while taking place in a far healthier context than Ms Hamilton’s sex scenes, are embarrassingly juvenile, completely with genitalia that apparently emanate some kind of sensual perfume and Gillian’s constantly leaking, clenching, and unclenching private parts.
Key to Conflict is truly bad to a degree that this isn’t some kind of trainwreck to be gawked at as much as it is one to flee from as fast as possible in case the trainwreck explodes like they always do in movies. Bad writing, bad sex scenes, bad dialogues, bad, bad, bad. This book is pretty much an example of what happens when you let really bad fanfiction authors play at being published authors at the reader’s expense. No offense to Ms Gryphon, who may be a sweet author who can easily show up at my door to kick my behind, being that she’s a bodyguard and all, but some books are not meant to be published in their current state and this drivel is one of them.