Key To Conflict Chapter 1

For my mother, Eleanor, who told me I should write and didn’t criticize my choice of genre

She must not like her mommy very much, because apparently her highest praise is that Mama failed to criticize her.

 
Darla Cook, my incomparable line editor and dear friend, without your help this truly would not have gotten off the ground.

Darla Cook, in case you’re quivering with anticipation, is the former P.A. and editor of the infamous Laurell K Hamilton, writer of many a bad vampire porn book about evil chocolate, child-pimping mermaids and very tasteful sex scenes. Reportedly, that’s also how Gryphon got her start: working for Hamilton.

Clearly we’re in good hands.

So anyway: the story begins with our intrepid (noooooot) heroine tooling around a dark Romanian country road in the middle of the night. She isn’t even in a car, just a motorcycle. Because she’s tough. Incredibly tough. She’s like Superman with a vagina, only tougher.

 
Gillian Key, United States Marine Corps Captain, Special Forces Operative, former flower child, wiseass extraordinaire, also legitimately known as Dr. Gillian Key, Paramortal psychologist, was at the moment…lost.

Much as I now wish this book were. This is a classic example of telling instead of showing – we’re told off the bat that our alleged heroine is all these things, but we’re never really shown.

Also, I think that Gryphon is showing her age here describing her heroine as being a “former flower child.” My mom and dad were too young for that, and they’re in their fifties. So either Gillian is lying about her age, or Gryphon didn’t think this one out. And I’m pretty sure “flower children” weren’t supposed to be doing this all the time: Gillian clamped a firm lid on her seething emotions,

And here we have a typical characteristic of the Snappy Sue – they get angry about everything. EVERYTHING. If they get a hangnail, suddenly they’re fuming with rage and taking it out on everyone.

The worst part is, it gets worse.

 
some fuckwit at headquarters had deemed it less obvious for her to land in Bucharest for the drive to Sacele. Probably some little desk jockey with no field experience.

Grunt grunt, thump manly chest. I suppose the intent is to give the impression that Gillian is a seasoned professional soldier, rather than a little girl with anger issues. But really, you don’t get to be a top soldier by being angry and resentful of people all the time unless they’ve gone out to shoot people.

Having encountered a lot of soldiers (including Marines) on a day to day basis, I can confidently say that they are actually MORE even-tempered than the average person, not LESS. I have never seen one enraged over a minor inconvenience, or seething with hatred of some random person who has failed them somehow. I’ve never seen one blow up, period. If they acted like this, I suspect they’d be out on their respective buttocks.

Consider this a second bad sign. If you needed a psychologist, would you want them to be seething with rage over every single little bump in the road? Evidently this is Gryphon’s idea of a “strong tough woman,” but frankly she just makes her Sue seem like someone who needs a nice padded cell.

 
Stop. Think. Act. Okay, fine, she’d stopped. Now she was thinking. Bully for her.

It’s always so nice to see a female character with a brain, who feels the need to congratulate herself on the most basic mental functions.

This had been before the Human-Paramortal Wars of a few years back when Vampires were still creatures of legend and Werewolves, Fairies, Goblins and Ghosts still only stories to frighten each other with around a campfire or on Halloween.

This is what tvtropes likes to call “The Masquerade,” or some hidden/secret group of supernatural… thingies who then turn around and are revealed to be for real. The problem is, she’s not really telling us anything here – when and where were these wars? The future? A parallel universe? What would the societal implications be?

Instead she’s pulling a Hamilton – plonking supernatural creatures in a real-life society and just having everything hum along normally as if they hadn’t been there all along.

 
Gill was taking it because it coincided with her schedule in officer training with the Marines

I don’t pretend to be a military expert, but I honestly don’t think you can have full-time college AND be in training to be in the Marines. Not without giving up sleep. It would be like doing eight college classes, or two full time jobs. Maybe three.

Anyhow, it turns out that in college she became lab buddies with some vampire chickie who was all depressed.

 
Lupe was her assigned partner and a total bitch.

Takes one to know one, dahlink. Anyway, apparently the vampire chickie called her “bitch” and gave her an order, so…

Her inherent empathy began flaring to beat hell

I’m not entirely sure what “beat hell” means, but that wasn’t what cracked me up. I really lost it when the description of Gillian’s “empathy” came up, since to date all we’ve seen of her empathy is that she hates other people and is full of rage for no reason.

 
It must have shown in her face, because the Vampire softened and burst into bloody tears

That sounds like average PMS to me.

 
They’d spent the next several hours sitting in a tree on campus with Gillian learning that even immortals get the blues, have problems, experience heartbreak, are dissatisfied with the direction their prolonged lives took them.

This is something a lot of rotten authors suffer from: Good Ideas Done Badly.

I simply love the idea of a supernatural headshrinker who can handle all the weird complexes that a human-turned-supernatural-thingies would have. There’s so much potential there, especially if the people in question had very different thought processes. Jim Butcher did an excellent job addressing the question of how otherwise human White Court vampires would think and act, because while they appear human, they have to regard humans as expendable food. How would that affect a person, especially since they are effectively human until they feed as teenagers? It’s a great idea, but obviously not explored here.

Also can you say “massive infodump”? This whole section would have worked better as a “how did you get into this field?” conversation later in the book. I’m also not sure why they had to have this conversation in a tree… wouldn’t a park bench have been more inviting?

 
The next day, Gillian had switched her major from criminal justice to a doublemajor with clinical Paramortal psychology added as her primary focus.

Okay… WHAT THE HELL? She just said that nobody knew that vampires, werethingies, fae, and ghosts were anything but campfire stories. Yet they have a college major for clinical psych on such people? I guess this means you can walk into a college and announce, “I would like to take Martian biology courses, please!”

 
Now a clinical psychologist with the Marines’ Special Forces

Pray, do the Marines’ Special Forces HAVE clinical psychologists? This is another Sue trait – doing everything and anything as long as it sounds cool. Especially if you’re a Barbie.


“I’m an astronaut doctor chef skydiver who designs party clothes! Also, I’m the President.

First as a Lieutenant at the Pentagon assigned as security during the first official Summit between Human and Paramortal delegations

Because of course ALL types of supernaturals would come out to humanity ALL at once. And they’d send diplomatic delegations rather than, say, give a quick nip to the President and take over the country.

 
It earned her a fast promotion and recognition in both the military and Paramortal psychology hierarchy.

Given that there would have been no such field prior to that, it wouldn’t be hard to get promoted. But I’m betting it wouldn’t put her in a position of power, since they might want to put someone COMPETENT in charge.

 
After her promotion to captain she had been field commander of a crack unit of commandos specializing in black operations: assassination and reconnaissance missions.

You can almost hear Gryphon squealing and wriggling about how incredibly tough and hardcore her imaginary alter ego is. As it is, I have trouble imagining a tiny whiny rageaholic being sent on any sensitive missions, let alone black ops.

 
The legendary Vampire was rumored to not be content with the current peaceful dealings of the Human-Paramortal world and was trying to stir things up.

It’s not easy to do, but Gryphon just did it – she managed to make Dracula sound like an unspeakably boring politician.

 
Absently she pushed her thick, long, blonde hair back over her shoulder… she cast Nile-green eyes

We now have a couple more Sue characteristics – strikingly colored eyes, long blonde hair, and a precious mention of beautiful lips. I betcha she has big boobs but is also slender.

And in addition, it seems like she is able to get off a motorcycle in a more macho, military, supertuff manner than anyone else:

 
Eight years in the Corps had taught her efficiency of movement, to combine several motions into one. Sometimes it kept you from getting killed.

Yay. Another heroine who has to remind us a thousand times that she’s tough and macho and incapable of going anywhere/doing anything without being more badass than John McClane. Getting off a motorcycle? Badass! Talking to patients? BADASS. Wiping her butt? BADASS!!!!!!

Like LKH, this author constantly tries to remind you that her heroine is the tuffest person ever, and is always in lots and lots of danger. And I’m pretty sure most people can “combine several motions into one,” not just vets.

So having parked her motorcycle in a totally hardcore warrioresque manner, she goes galumphing up to the door and a hot man answers the door. Which according to Gryphon is a very bad thing to happen:

 
but the man who opened the door made her reflexively reach for the gun she no longer wore openly at her side.

The description of him isn’t exactly threatening – it’s not like he’s holding a bloody ax and has a human skull for a hat. It feels like Gryphon left something essential out of this sentence explaining why Gillian would randomly whip out guns. So the only assumption I can draw is that Gillian draws guns on men who open doors. Wouldn’t you feel safe with her as a shrink?

It seems that Gillian decides that he must be one of Dracula’s Evil Minions Of Evil, but how she comes to this conclusion, I’m not sure. I mean, this is Romania. It’s vampire-legend country, so I assume that there would be vampires aplenty there… and it’s not like the dude said, “Welcome to Casa Dracula! Would you like a Mary’s Blood… I mean, a Bloody Mary?”

And given that she was summoned to this place to deal with the psychological problems of a vampire… and this is the vampire’s home… WHY WOULD SHE ASSUME HE’S ANYTHING BUT THE GUY SHE’S THERE TO TREAT?!?!?!?!

He was tall, very tall. Ebony black hair fell in waves over his broad shoulders and silvery gray eyes appraised her from beneath elegantly arched brows placed on a harshly beautiful face.

Most of these characteristics are in line with a Gary Stu Love Interest, who must be worthy of the Suey heroine. Right down to having SILVERY eyes and “ebony” hair.

The one thing that puzzles me is the description of a harshly beautiful face. According to merriam-webster.com, “harsh” means “lacking in aesthetic appeal or refinement,” so this dude is basically the opposite of beauty. It’s like talking about a wetly dry X or a brilliantly dull Y. I think the word Gryphon wants is “rugged,” but apparently the thesaurus is not her friend.

 
Vampire. No doubt in her mind. No Human ever looked like that.

I don’t see why. Said vampire seems to have all the usual human parts and no extras, so why wouldn’t a human look like him? It’s not like this dude has horns, green skin and a talking tumor like the fae dude in Hellboy 2. 

 
a deeply toned, liquid-velvet voice, beautifully accented, caressed her.

Hang on, because this is just the start of Ms. Gryphon’s massive voice fetish.

She knew absolutely that if he chose to attack her in the enclosed walls of the cabin, there was absolutely nothing she could do against Vampire reflexes, strength and speed to stop him

Given the popular conception of how strong and fast vampires are, there shouldn’t be anything she could do outside, inside, underwater or in outer space. But that sounds a lot less impressive for our Tuff Tuff Heroine.

 
his demeanor suggested that she relax and trust him. Not a chance in hell.

So Gillian just found out this guy is actually her new patient… and apparently decides to treat him like her worst enemy. I’m glad she’s not my shrink – she might kill me for daring to be in the same room with her.

 
Aleksei could feel her too. A Vampire for the last four hundred years, his power growing by the decade, he was sensitive to all life-forms, their needs and feelings

It’s starting to sound suspiciously like Gryphon’s vampires are psychic bleeding-hearts who Feel Your Pain and fuck you better than any human could while they’re at it. I’m not sure why a vampire’s power would grow, or why this would make him magically able to feel all “life-forms”.

For that matter, I’m not sure why this would be a good thing, since the man basically uses humans for food. It would be like feeling the pain of your broccoli as you ate it.

He’d never encountered a Human woman with her sensitivity, yet also with a deeply ingrained penchant for real violence. For a Human, she might actually be dangerous,

First, this is another clumsy attempt of Gryphon’s to convince us that her Sue is so very, very strong and tough. She scares vampires! They think she’s dangerous! Be afraid! WOOOOOOO….

The second problem is the whole idea that SuperGillian is a supersensitive psychic empath who Feels Others’ Pain, yet is violent. For someone with that ability it would be necessary to NOT be violent just to avoid causing pain to yourself… which is another awesome idea that Gryphon failed to pick up on. For that matter, I doubt the military would ever let Ms. RuffNTuff into combat for that very reason. You don’t want someone potentially paralyzed in a delicate situation because someone else got shot, or possibly being influenced by the enemy’s emotions.

 
Predator! screamed her mind, and she fought her instinct to turn and deck him before he pounced.

Apparently Gryphon doesn’t know how people react to the idea of a much stronger predator versus themselves. The first instinct isn’t to pop them in the jaw; the first instinct is to run like the proverbial rabbit and find a bathroom to hide in.

“I am sorry, signorina; please come in and relax. Perhaps we can begin right away.”

I will openly admit that I have never been to Romania, but I’m pretty sure (correct me if I’m wrong) they’re not an Italian-speaking country. They have their OWN related language, but it’s not the same thing.

In fact, google translate says that the word for “miss” (as in, single woman) is “domnișoară.”

 
For now, she needed to do her job honestly. As a legitimate PhD, she really was there to help him and the local Ghost with their issues.

I find it difficult to imagine that someone like Gillian could have graduated from second grade, let alone grad school. And for that matter, what does she mean, a “legitimate PhD”? Are there a lot of roaming PhDs that are NOT legitimate?

 
There would be no breaking of his personal confidentiality.

I’m not exactly sure why she has to tell herself this, since he hasn’t told her anything that would REQUIRE breaking her confidentiality. If he said he ate babies in brain sauce for breakfast, she might have a problem there. But all he’s done is be nice to her. Maybe HE should be the shrink.

 
Elegant, aristocratic hands poured the tea for her and handed her the cup.

Disembodied aristocrat’s hands… is this like a vampire version of The Addams Family?

He consciously avoided brushing her fingers with his own as she took the cup. She was here to help him, not be seduced by him.

Having seduced exactly zero women in my life, I admit to not being an expert. But I think it takes a bit more than finger contact, or I would have seduced hundreds and hundreds of people by now.

 
he dropped into it with the casual inherent grace all Vampires possessed

Let’s add this to the Bad Romantic Vampire Cliches list, shall we? Along with possessing more powers than Superman, wearing leather, being misunderstood, forever whining about people they loved a long time ago, having zero prejudices from centuries ago, etc.

I should start a drinking game.

Long, lean, muscled legs encased in knee-length black suede boots and tight black pants were casually crossed,

Another reigning cliche – hot male vampires must be dressed to sex up the Mary Sue at all times. Even if they live all by themselves in the butt end of nowhere, they must wear skintight sexy clothes at all times. No vampire – no matter how depressed – is allowed to answer the door with messy hair, a bathrobe and a pair of bunny slippers. That wouldn’t be sexy.

 
The lace cuff of his ivory lawn shirt

Lace-edged shirt – check. A particular favorite of the infamous Hamilton. Tell me, does it hang off him like limp lettuce so we can ogle his ridiculous torso and oddly spherical crotch?

He was completely aware of the effect he had on her.

What a nice guy. He claimed he wasn’t there to seduce her a minute ago, and now he’s splaying his tight-pantsed backside all over the furniture. Of course, professional ethics don’t stop Gillian from practically having an orgasm over Mr. Tightpants while stirring her tea:

 
heightened pulse, faster and shallower breathing, blood pressure rising, eyes slightly dilated,

Take me like a kleptomaniac, you vampire studmuffin!

 
genitalia becoming turgid and moist—a sensual perfume to his supernaturally heightened senses in the quiet cottage.

Oh. Ew. Squared. We have officially entered TMI territory. I do not want to hear about anyone’s genitalia getting “turgid,” male or female. Call me a prude, but the word “turgid” is kind of gross and unsensual – it sounds like a term you’d use for extreme bloat, or maybe a water balloon. As for “moist,” Ms. Gryphon seems to think it means “soaked.”

Aside from being gross, it’s also rather inaccurate – no matter what your gender, your nether regions aren’t going to smell anything like perfume. They’re actually kind of stinky, especially if you’ve been riding around the wilderness for a few days. But then, Gillian is a Sue, so her bloated netherbits smell like perfume.

As an additional problem, this isn’t a cottage. Gillian described it as a castle a few pages ago and suddenly it’s become a cottage. I’m pretty sure the two terms are not interchangeable, unless Aleksei has a “regular-sized” castle the size of Versailles.

 
Gillian and he regarded each other. With her mouth going dry and other parts of her body below her waist growing damp,

And we can add incontinence to our heroine’s list of defects. Seeeeexseeeeeee. So she’s rude, violent, unprofessional and she piddles herself.

 
Masculine, virile looking, sensually stimulating and stunning as he was, she’d dealt with Vampires before and squelched any attraction she might have had.

If practically orgasming because he’s sitting on a couch is “squelching” her attraction, then I suspect that “squelching” counts as anything short of body-tackling him on the floor and raping him.

 
Radiating testosterone, sex and sensuality was just an element of what he was. It wasn’t intentional and he couldn’t help it. Vampires just exuded sex.

Here we have another common modern cliche, based on two things:

  1. the author wants to boink a hot vampire,
  2. an attempt at adding yet more sexy virtues to the supposedly superior vampiric characters.

Such writers usually don’t bother with portraying vampires with any downsides, because they’re just DYING to be one themselves (pun intended). So they make the once-monstrous vamps a bunch of cuddly sex objects who just want wuv. Not blood. Wuv.

Your meal tended to be extremely cooperative if it was experiencing the ecstasy of intense foreplay while you sank your teeth into its neck and the throes of a monumental orgasm while you drank your fill.

Wow, you think this is some sort of set-up for SuperSnappySue to have superhuman vampire sex with Hawt Vampire Dude? Naaaaaah.

 
It wasn’t that Vampires couldn’t or didn’t have sex; they did. Frequently.

I officially miss Bram Stoker now. He could make vampires sexy and sexual without being blatant about the choo-choo going into the tunnel.

 
Vampires drank blood. They had sex. They just by and large didn’t do both at the same time unless they intended a permanent attachment to the other party.

Wow, you think that at some point Aleksei is going to do both at the same time with Gillian at some point?

 
Their ability to bring mind-blowing ecstasy during feeding and sex was one of the reasons that Vampires rarely had any Human posse after them since their recognition as real and sentient beings. Satisfied prey rarely bitched.

This is heading into the territory of a whole Sue Species – vampires are so awesome and sexy and magical and generally amazing that NOBODY in the whole wide world would ever decide that they were Satan’s spawn and want them dead. I imagine more than a few religions wouldn’t suddenly decide that the undead were just like other people.

And there’s the automatic assumption that after being regarded as monsters for centuries, everybody would just immediately change their minds and decide, “Hey, they give various people awesome sex. They MUST be good. Sign me up.” Forget elves – apparently vampires also crap gold and fart perfume. They’re just that amazing.

 
The small blonde in front of him had Aleksei’s mind in turmoil. She wasn’t particularly young in Human years, about twenty-five,

Oh bullshit. A PhD, high-ranking black ops marine AND a respected shrink at TWENTY FIVE? Any ONE of those would be hard to achieve by twenty-five, but ALL THREE?

 
her delicate appearance masked a body put together with feminine curves supported by hard muscle. The way she moved suggested a graceful strength and a certain amount of coiled power ready to explode.

Because she’s super-feminine and delicate and curvy, but also super-strong and powerful! Does she also have rainbow hair and a name like Crystal Galadriel Waterfalldancer?

 
When she’d smiled at him in the doorway, his heart had slammed in his chest from her sheer loveliness.

Gillian Key – she’s so Suey she makes four-hundred-year-old vampires freak out with lust. She’s just that pretty.

 
She was the spitting image of someone he’d known. Someone who had been dead for over four hundred years.

Well there’s a little plot twist that I NEVER saw coming – the cheap approach of having the Sue look exactly like the vampire’s Long Lost Luv, whom he’s never stopped mourning. Of course, since looks are all-important, the personality doesn’t make a shred of difference. If they look alike, then the modern chickie must automatically be his Twoo Wuv.

Francis Ford Coppola, you have a LOT to answer for.

Meanwhile Gillian is continuing to piddle herself with lust, and all but humps Aleksei’s leg while telling herself to be professional. A real professional would’ve handed this case off to a heterosexual male shrink long ago because her swampy bloated netherbits might influence her, but unsurprisingly Gillian doesn’t do that. Naturally.

 
“The report I got from you said that you were suffering from what we would term fangxiety.”

Okay.

 

 

 

Ah, one of those moments where you think the author must be joking, and then you realize they aren’t – they actually did write something that monumentally stupid. Then you either cry and slit your wrists, or roll around laughing hysterically until you get the hiccups. FANG-xiety? Who could come up with that?!

 
“You are functioning rather well from what I have observed, and four hundred years is a long time to not be used to your circumstances.”

Which is true. However, no Sue can hook up with a loopy basket case, unless he’s a loopy basket case that manages to look sexy while being insane (think Sephiroth). And of course, cure him with WUV.

Vampires who suffered fangxiety tended to be pale, shy, almost shriveled-looking and be far younger than the man seated before her

But of course! She can’t have acrobatic superorgasmic sex with a pale shy shriveled dude, even those those are the only kind that would be timid enough to put up with her shit. No, she needs a giant supervirile hottie-hot-hot Penis-in-Pants, who can completely undermine the whole “tuff girl” act by seducing her with his macho wiles. Yay for feminism.

Anyway, Aleksei continues by whining about how awful it is to be a vampire and how he doesn’t really get any fun out of feeding or being a hawt sex-dripping immortal, because “I am having trouble looking at an endless eternity of being alone.” Boohoo. I can think of a few million men who would slap his perfectly-coiffed head off his shoulders for whining about all this. Given the way he’s acting and what he’s saying, he sounds less like he’s depressed and more like he’s trying to get laid.

But it makes sense. In the world of vampire porn, a vampire must be self-loathing and depressed about what he is. Not just because Anne Rice did it, but because in the eyes of the readers, a smidge of regret automatically turns Bloodsucking Parasitic Monster into Sexy Emo Hottie. You can do whatever you like, as long as you feel sad about it.

Which is another trait of Hamilton’s, incidentally.

 
“The circumstances of my life have been difficult. I lost someone very dear to me over four hundred years ago because I failed to see what was before my eyes.”

… which, of course, he isn’t planning to do a second time. Because “someone very dear to me” always means a virginal Twoo Wuv who looks just like the SuperSnappySue, rather than… oh, say, his mother or his dog or his childhood nanny. And of course, she isn’t as Twoo a Wuv as the heroine, because FUCK.

 
“Coupling that with the realization that anyone I do begin to care for will eventually age and die a natural death, you begin to see my dilemma.”

I’d be more impressed by his wangsting if he didn’t have an obvious option: get involved with another vampire, who will never age or die. After all, Gryphon’s vampires are superior to humans in every way, so why would Aleksei even think about getting involved with a human? It’s sounding more and more like he’s trying to get laid every second – it makes you wonder if he goes off to Romanian bars and pulls this puppy-dog-eyes act on all the girls there. “Waaaaaah, I’m immortal and it makes me sad and lonely! Comfort me in your luscious bosoms!”

 
“So what you are saying is that you are looking for some deeper meaning in your existence beyond simply being one of the more powerful supernatural beings with eternity to kill.”

No, he said he’s mopey because he doesn’t have a girlfriend. I guess Gillian’s swamplike private parts are distracting her from what EmoBoy is actually saying.

Like any good therapist, it wasn’t her place to tell him what she thought, it was to lead him around to what he thought.

Except she just did that.

 
Vampires were notoriously stubborn about changing age-old thought patterns and habits.

I honestly don’t see why they would be any worse than anyone else. But this is the vampire cliche – they’re always totally behind the curve and stuck in ages past, usually so the heroine can make herself look smart by comparison.

Well, that’s the end of chapter one. Chapter two only gets worse, my pretties – Gryphon starts introducing sex and a plot.

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