Key to Conflict is a good idea that suffers from poor execution.
Gillian Key is a paramortal psychologist. In a world where humans exist along side supernatural beings, including vampires, werewolves, fairies and elves, it is Gillian’s job to provide them with the same caliber of mental health care available to humans. Also a gifted empath, Gillian is able to receive feelings from and project feelings to the living and the dead, a rare talent that puts her at the top of her profession. Not only that, but she is a retired Marine Special Forces operative.
The books opens as Gillian makes her way to Romania, having been sent to provide short-term therapy to both vampire Count Aleksei Rachlav, and a local ghost Dante Montefiore who has been terrorizing the inhabitants of a nearby castle. But Gillian’s legitimate role as therapist is also her cover. As an undercover field operative she has been charged with the task of pumping Aleksei and Dante for information about a rumored vampiric uprising led by the legendary Count Dracula.
Key to Conflict presented me with a heroine I wanted to read about in a situation I was interested in watching her navigate. However, a decent premise is all the book has to offer.
It’s full of mistakes you’d expect from a beginning writer, the most glaring of which is Gryphon’s complete dismissal of the classic writing axiom “Show, don’t tell.” Rather than draw readers in through carefully constructed scenes played out by dynamic characters, she “tells” her readers what is going on instead of allowing them to watch the story as it unfolds. This distances them from the material and prevents readers from really getting into the story.
Similarly, her idea of character development is to list all the positive and negative qualities she claims her characters possess rather than allowing readers to see them display these qualities through their actions. There is often a huge disconnect between the qualities she says her characters possess and the qualities she actually shows her characters to possess.
For instance, Gillian is supposed to be a fearless Marine, yet, when in danger she is more apt to run, hide, or look for a nice man to save her. She is supposed to be a highly decorated Captain, yet she fouls up every plan of attack she attempts. As a therapist, she shows a remarkable talent for leaving her patients worse off than they were when they came to her. Gillian is supposed to be a strong, independent , modern woman, but what Gryphon gives us is a helplessly dependent, petulant brat who constantly complains about how no thinks she can take care of herself, even though she never does anything to prove she can.
It isn’t just the constant “telling” and lack of character development that mark Key to Conflict as the work of a novice. The text is full of run on sentences, unnecessary dialogue, unnecessary repetition, and grammatical errors, all of which cause the story to drag. The main plot involving Count Dracula’s coup lacks urgency and does not come across as particularly dire. Gryphon seems to think the only time it is appropriate to insert an actual scene into the story is when something of a romantic or sexual nature occurs. Don’t get me wrong, romance has its place, but a book that’s nothing more than overly explanatory narrative injected with the occasional sex scene wears thin very fast.
Essentially, Key to Conflict is a starter novel; the one a new writer works on for years that ultimately ends up collecting dust at the bottom of their desk drawer because no one will, or should, publish it. I’m actually astounded this book made it into print. Written by an author lacking in both technique and story telling ability I am confounded there is an editor on the planet who thought this work worthy of mass production. Though, it does give struggling novelists hope. After all, if Talia Gryphon can get published, anyone can.