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2.5 out of 5 stars
2.5 out of 5 stars
Key to Conflict
Format: Mass Market Paperback|Change
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on 18 December 2007
Sometimes you hear about a book so awful, so badly written, so freaking unbelieably poor plotted, you just have to read it for yourself.

Gillian Key is a Marine Corp captain, a world-renowned paramortal psychologist and the prettiest darn thing you ever did see. On the pretense of treating a four-hundred-year old vampire with depression, she's undercover in Romania scoping out information on Dracula, who may or may not be about to wage war on humanity. Unfortunately, Gillian is having trouble respecting the client-doctor boundary because, naturally, her patient, Alecksei, is intolerably sexy. As is his brother, Tanis. As is the ghost she's treating for post-traumatic-stress syndrome.

Gillian is a first class Mary Sue. She's blonde, green-eyed, curvy, intelligent, fierce, a decorated battle vet and a fantastic lover. Every man who meets her immediately decides to bed her. I can't imagine why they would, personally. If she's not yelling at her patients or fighting with their families, she's on her tiptoes screaming that she's a Marine, dammit! and doesn't need anyone to look after her. She's also a violent bully who takes issue with pretty much everything anyone says to her. She's like Scrappy Doo - forever picking fights with people far stronger than her and getting away with it because she's just too darn cute! The men she meets simply melt into goo when she does something stupid, because she's so brave to do it! And also cute!

Secondary characters are inconsistent in their behaviour - Tanis, for example starts the book as a growling neanderthal who believes it's his God-given right to spank women to "put them in their place," but ends it as a tender-hearted wuvbunny after a magical encounter with Gillian's swamplike nether regions. Dracula, plugged throughout as the World's Greatest Evil, appears for one paragraph and spends it drooling over Gillian. Other characters are simply there to admire her, even when she's being a completely unreasonable cow.

Realistic behaviour takes a back seat too. Despite Gillian's frequent reminders that she's a marine and a world-famous psychologist, she never behaves with a soldier's discipline or a psychologist's intelligence. I have something of a military background, and if a soldier spoke to their commanding officer the way Gillian speaks to hers, they'd be court-martialled faster than you can say "Private Benjamin." Another issue is the question of time-scale. The book purportedly takes place over the course of a year, yet weeks and months are skipped over and it seems to be perpetually autumn no matter how much time passes, giving the book a disjointed feel.

Editing and grammar are poor (that's probably not a surprise, given that Gryphon is a protege of Laurell K Hamilton), and missing commas wreck havoc on the setence structure throughout. Info-dumping wastes huge swathes of paper that could be happily pumping oxygen into the atmosphere as a tree somewhere. Gryphon is apparently convinced that, unless she reiterates it every other page, the reader might forget Gillian's profession, hair colour, eye colour and bra size.

In conclusion, awkwardly-written, ill-contrived and unintentionally hilarious in places, this is a book that fans of the new LKH books will lap up. Everyone else, I wouldn't bother if I were you.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 January 2009
When a book's heroine is described as a "United States Marine Corps Captain, Special Forces Operative, former flower child, wisea$s extraordinaire" on the very first line, you know an epic disaster is coming.

And Talia Gryphon's debut novel does not disappoint. "Key to Conflict" crams every urban fantasy cliche ever invented (and then some) into a flimsy, fraying storyline that unravels faster than the psychotic heroine's temper, and then dusts the mess with plenty of horrific sex scenes and ridiculous plot twists. It's one of the rare books that really is THAT BAD.

Dr. Gillian Key arrives in a vaguely 18th-century Romanian village, to treat Count Aleksei Rachlav for "fangxiety." But his brother Tanis quickly arrives with news of Dracula's reappearance, and quickly gets on the bad side of a shrieking, increasingly psycho Gillian. Of course, this friction leads to torrid, amazing sex.

All in the same evening.

But then Gillian is waylaid by one of Dracula's minions -- turns out she's so awesome that he has plans for her. In the months after visiting the vampire lord Osiris, the trio start building up a small army of powerful Egyptian vampires and lycanthropes -- until Dracula kills one of them, meaning that now he's practically "on their doorstep." And he's got one of the nastiest, most infamous vampires at his command...

As in the works of Laurell K. Hamilton (who is given a fawning shout-out alongside J.R.R. Tolkien), it's pretty obvious that the entire ghastly "Key to Conflict is all an authorial wet dream. It has all the usual urban fantasy cliches: An Awesome Gutsy Heroine finding love and amazing sex with Sex-Oozing Benevolent Vampires and Sexy Ghosts. Bleah.

In fact, the entire plot is just sort of an extended meander through the vampire universe, full of leaden infodumps and New Big Threats (mummies!) every time things get boring. Nothing really happens for hundreds of pages at a time. And Gryphon constantly sprinkles the story with hilariously wretched ideas -- such as the arrogant proclaimation that J.R.R. Tolkien's classic works were transcribed stories from HER elves.

But even better ideas wouldn't save this book, because Gryphon's writing is beyond ghastly -- in narrative ("you could bet lock, stock and silver bullets") and dialogue (Tanis' hilarious postcoital: "It will always be special, because it was with you"). And even worse is the constant sexual content -- the sex scenes are clinical and unerotic, the men are all "pantie-liquifying" and perpetually aroused, and Gillian spends more time thinking about her swampy private parts than her job.

On the few occasions when she isn't slavering with lust, Gillian is about as likable as a rabid wolverine -- and certainly less "empathic," since she never shows the slightest interest in how anyone else feels. Gryphon tries to portray her as a strong, independent woman who is the best at everything, and is so heart-stoppingly gorgeous and wonderful that all men are crazy in love/lust with her.

Too bad she merely seems psychotic, crude, whiny, unprofessional at best, verbally and physically abusive, hypocritical and constantly searching for something to brawl about. In fact, her random fits of screaming rage become all the more hilarious because they're usually for no good reason -- especially since she regards "What did you say to me?" to be sexist bullying.

It's hard to find a single aspect of "Key to Conflict" that is actually done well -- the whole book is a dribbling, slow-moving clump of excruciating urban fantasy cliches. Hilariously amateurish at best.
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on 1 October 2007
'Meet Gillian Key. She's a Paramortal psychologist who can treat the mental distress of nonhumans. And she's a Marine Special Forces operative who can get physical with them when the situation calls for it...
Gillian's two worlds collide when she travels to the Carpathian Mountains in Romania to counsel the local master vampire, Count Aleksei Rachlav. His therapy serves as the perfect cover for her special ops mission: to infiltrate local vampire factions who may be allied with Rachlav's enemy-the legendary Dracula. As a brewing turf war between those who see them as food begins to rock the paramortal realm, Gillian finds herself caught in the middle-and at the mercy of her dangerously attractive host. Her professional ethics tell her to keep her distance, but besides being both a healer and a fighter, Gillian Key is also very much a woman...'

'Key to Conflict' is the first novel in the interesting Gillian Key Series.
I have rated this novel as four stars, however throughout the book the stars vere from three to a four and a half rating-and a five stars towards the end. The plot is gripping and extremely interesting (especially the Egyptian angle). With the introduction of more characters, the book comes more into it's own and the dynamic between all the characters finds a better balance. I found it interesting once I had gotten my head around the monologue/history updates-esq paragraphs. I initially found this novel difficult to get into, due to the heroines (and others) seemingly constant and contradictory behaviour/emotions/attributes, however I found myself intrigued by the new world that was being depicted and I am glad I read it. By the end of this novel, I was interested to find out what happens next and grew to like the characters. Not the best start to a series, but with great intriguing moments the sequel can only be better.
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on 24 October 2007
This is a promising new entrant into the SF genre, although I would have to say that there are remarkable parallels between this book and the Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton. In fact, the author mentions Laurell several times during the book.

The premise is promising, and could be something that develops well. I just hope that it will not be a copycat series. Don't get me wrong, I love Laurell's books and have all of them, but I think that individuality is key to a successful series. Saying that, if there is another in this series, I would buy it to read.

I enjoyed it, but felt that parts of the book could have been better put together.
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