Friday, April 10, 2009

Key to Conflict – review

Author: Talia Gryphon

First Published: 2007

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: 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 Count Dracula. As a brewing turf war between those who favor peaceful co-existence with humans and those who see them as food begins to rock the paranormal 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 very much a woman…

The Review: You know what I hate, when it comes to fictional characters? It is the blooming ‘I am everything’ character. Take CSI. The original CSI had the character Grissom – quirky and flawed I thought he was a great character. CSI: Miami had smug old Horatio Cane, ex-cop, bomb squad, I can do everything and am perfect (even when I’m not) character and a bloody awful character to boot… hated the character, thus disliked the show. Gillian Key reminds me of that character and the problem with such characters is they do not allow suspension of disbelief.

Gillian Key is a petite, pretty, big boobed woman who is, allegedly, a marine commander, an empath and a psychiatrist, yet somehow has no control over her lusts or her temper it would seem… No… the idea of a psychiatrist for the supernatural, brilliant, throwing in all the extra skill sets shows an author looking at fantasy fulfilment (and we’ll get to the sex later). This put me off the book.

Then things started to not gel, story wise, from the earliest pages. Gillian recalls that the Marines paid for her education – so she was officer training during the day and taking night classes at college. She discovered that her class mate was a vampire and, after a confrontation, switched “her major from criminal justice to a double major with clinical Paramortal psychology.” All well and good but this was “before the Human-Paramortal Wars of a few years back when Vampires where still creatures of legend and Werewolves, Fairies, Goblins and Ghosts still only stories to frighten…” In which case why was a college offering a major in the psychiatry of creatures that didn’t, to science and the public, exist?

The Human-Paramortal Wars sound interesting but no background is given. Then we get to our baddy… Dracula. Now this is an alternate reality where Tolkien still wrote Lord of the Rings, TSR still made Dungeons and Dragons and Laurell K Hamilton gets a name check (making you wonder about her quote on the cover, or is that too cynical). When these are name checked Stoker isn’t mentioned but comes up as a throw away much later on, Gryphon mentions the difference between the fictional Dracula and the reality. In Gryphon’s world view Dracula was Tepes, was a vampire and was one of three known Vampire Princes (the other two being Osiris and Dionysus). He is a bad vampire, whilst the other two are good vampires, and has been in hiding (presumed dead) for 300 years. It is not without the realm of possibility that Stoker used such a character accidentally but I tended to think not and no attempt was made to reconcile Stoker’s vision with Gryphon’s world view.

As for the other two vampire Princes, note they both have God names and were worshipped as Gods in the past. Given that Osiris is Egyptian and most of the pantheon turn up as vampires (Sekhmet, Isis and Anubis, for instance) one would have thought that the ‘not really pagan, brought up Jewish but still using the term Goddess and, specifically, Hathor in little plea prayers’ Gillian Key might have had her faith in Hathor shattered as she was likely a vampire too… by the books own internal logic.

The vampires have many of the standard attributes, aversion to sunlight, sleeping on Earth (not necessarily native earth) and potentially an aversion to holy items. Gryphon suggests that “Crosses and other religious artefacts only work if they’re wielded by a true believer against a Vampire who is also a true believer.” She then contradicts that, in the same paragraph, by saying that Gillian, who was a non-Christian, threw a cross disdainfully at a vampire which “embedded itself like a hot knife in the butter of His Excellency’s jaw” as Gillian had forgotten that he was “most likely Catholic in his Daywalker life”. And Gryphon ignored her own rule from one sentence earlier…

Then we get the sex. Fantasy fulfilment for the author, it seemed to me. All the men seem to be straight from the author’s private fantasies and all of them are attracted to Gillian Key. She herself is pitched as an independent woman but is actually sexually passive-submissive, it would seem – given that she calls one vampire chauvinistic, is put over his knee and spanked by him and then jumps his bones not too many paragraphs later. It isn’t as in your face as later Hamilton, I have to say, and doesn’t interrupt story (indeed some of the scenes compliment the story). However, there is a section where a ghost (who had dark elf blood when mortal) is invading and manipulating her dreams and taking transubstantiated advantage whilst she dreams. Whilst, much later on, another character refers to it as rape, Gillian herself says “In my dream state, I was not unwilling. It wasn’t rape…” Okay, this is a fantasy book and the coercion was supernatural but I’d call that rape and as Gillian Key is the voice of the author I found the sentiment rather distasteful.

Overall I thought there was a good idea that got lost within fantasy fulfilment and story that didn’t gel within its own history and internal logic. 3 out of 10.

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