Key to Conflict: Badly written erotica

Talia Gryphon Gillian Key, Paradoc 1. Key to ConflictKey to Conflict by Talia Gryphon

I did not finish Key to Conflict by Talia Gryphon. I stopped at around the 100 page mark. Key to Conflict is the kind of book that makes people think “urban fantasy” is a euphemism for “badly written erotica.”

In the first sentence, we are introduced to: “Gillian Key, United States Marine Corps Captain, Special Forces Operative, former flower child, wiseass extraordinaire, also legitimately known as Dr. Gillian Key, Paramortal psychologist,” and that sets the stage for Gillian as a character. She’s all over the place. Not only does she have more training and degrees and honors than seem plausible for her age, but the different aspects of her character seem clumsily cobbled together rather than parts of a whole. One minute she’ll be caring and empathetic, and the next minute she’s flying off the handle. Her “Marine” status seems mostly like an excuse to lose her temper, which doesn’t fit what I know of the actual military. While her career as a psychologist to vampires, ghosts, etc. could have been an interesting angle, her therapy scenes are told rather than shown. There’s barely any dialogue during these scenes. They’re told in more of a summary style.

The writing and editing are poor. Head-hopping is rampant; the point-of-view switches around dizzyingly. At one point, a character is thinking about Dracula, and we randomly end up in Dracula’s head for about one sentence. Gryphon also employs the annoying technique of capitalizing too many terms. In this book we don’t have vampires and ghosts and humans, we have Vampires and Ghosts and Humans. People don’t talk about their country; it’s their Country. Vampires who commit suicide are Facing The Sun. Then there’s the word “Count,” which seems to be used as a term for “vampire” rather than a title in any coherent peerage system.

The book is also oversexed. I’m not against sex in books. What I don’t like are books where a huge bevy of hot people are paraded into the story and the protagonist lusts after every single one. At the point where I stopped, Gillian was lusting after three “pantie-wetting” men (“panty” is the singular form, by the way) and was having sex with one of them — a creepy misogynist who spanked her, not as foreplay, but to put her in her place as a woman… and then she still embarked on an affair with him afterward.

I considered finishing Key to Conflict just to see if it got sillier, but then I decided my time would be better spent reading something good. I don’t recommend Key to Conflict; it gives an inaccurate idea of what this subgenre is all about.


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KELLY LASITER is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

View all posts by Kelly Lasiter

5 comments

  1. for all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these
    “badly written erotica”

  2. I would never have guessed from the cover that this would have gone the over-sexed route. Thanks for the warning!

  3. Too the Hamilton route? That seems to be happening a lot these days.

  4. I’d just been thinking earlier how the cover art doesn’t give any indication, while there are other books that have way sexier covers but a lot less actual sex in the book!

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