Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 21

Every time I think I have it bad reading this drek, my co-author Tiger Gray posts another chapter of their Narcissus in Chains spork and I feel slightly better. At least there’s not as much rape.

That’s the standard. At least there’s not as much rape.

Dionysus laughs at Aleksei because Gillian is “a handful,” but Aleksei insists, for the billionth time, that “no other Human is as capable as she, nor as courageous.

impossible star wars

Dionysus calls Gillian “your piccola principessa.” For fuck’s sake, even he’s using Italian now. NEWS FLASH: GREECE ISN’T ITALY EITHER. Also, he’s joined in on the Objectifying Train by calling her a “little princess.”

Apparently vampires mate for life. What? Seriously? If your life is, without interference, eternity, why the fuck would this system be in place? Even humans are more likely to engage in serial monogamy than forever-monogamy. This standard makes zero sense. It would make so much more sense if they thought of everything as temporary because, in all likelihood, other opportunities will come around eventually. They are also “loyal and protective to their chosen. The non-Dracula variety, anyway.” So once again, as in the very early chapters, Dracula is back to being a variety of vampire. Is it a name or is it a class/type?

Oh boy, and here we have more arbitrary gendered bullshit. “Predatory and inherently dangerous by nature, the males were overwhelmed with the enhanced emotions and increased physical sensations the change wrought in them.”


The idea that a man is predatory and dangerous by nature is so, so harmful to both men and women. You know the whole school dress code debate and how it’s skewed against girls thanks to issues like rape culture and slut shaming? It’s saying that girls are responsible for “distracting boys” if they dress a certain way that adults find unacceptable, but it’s also saying that boys are highly distractable and can’t control themselves. Saying “boys will be boys” makes everyone helpless: it teaches boys they’re not responsible for their own impulses, even (especially) if they’re violent and/or sexual, and it teaches girls that they are responsible, but they better watch out anyway because if they don’t control themselves just right, boys will come after them anyway.


Boy, this book has everything! Misogyny? Check. Sexual coercion? Check. Sexual violence? Double check! Objectifying? Check. Gendered power imbalance? Check! Bechdel test fail? Check. Rape culture? DINGDINGDING! I would argue that while the ugliness in this book is slightly subtler than in Anita Blake (that is, fewer instances of blithe on-screen rape), it’s just as bad. It’s built into the entire fucking canon of the book universe now.

The narrative claims that the females are predators too, which I assume is supposed to be some kind of half-assed (really more like quarter-assed) attempt at justification, but the rest of the paragraph goes on to claim that although the males are terrible predators, they’re SO GENTLE AND LOVING to the people they care about! An entire race of abusers, y’all. Ain’t that the sexiest thing?

Aleksei likes to “[vent] about Gillian’s feminist attitude and her former occupation as a soldier.” The narrative actually admits that Aleksei thinks of her in terms of the fact that she’s a small human female, so she needs protecting. See, this would be okay if it were handled with nuance (which we know this book is incapable of) within the first couple of chapters, not in Chapter 21. By now, it is completely unacceptable for the romantic interest to have not budged one bit in his repugnant attitudes.

Here the author is spelling all this out better than I can:

Cezar didn’t want to be anywhere around if Gillian truly pushed Aleksei over whatever line would force him to take action. She would be in for an immediate and abrupt discourse in Vampire protective genetic traits. Aleksei would view it as necessary to get her attention and Gillian would view it as bullying.

This paragraph makes me physically ill. Aleksei doesn’t have any control over what actions he takes, see. He would be forced to punish her (read: assault her) if she stepped over whatever arbitrary line he set, because it’s necessary. I HATE how the situation is set up so Gillian seems like a recalcitrant child that Aleksei has to bring to heel (bully) in order to protect and be romantic about. WHO THINKS THIS IS OKAY IN A ROMANCE??

And let’s talk about the whole “Vampire protective genetic traits.

do you even science

Insofar as we know, vampirism is not genetic. In fact, it can’t be, because it’s an acquired condition that wasn’t there before. Chicken pox is not genetic. AIDS is also not genetic. The likelihood that vampirism will “take” might be determined by genetics, but I certainly don’t give this author credit for that much world building. Even with magicals, I fail to see how an acquired condition can alter someone’s genes. Even if that were true, I fail to see how genes determine how protective someone is. Mental illness can have a genetic component that then affects personality, I suppose, but I’m really reaching here and probably overthinking a stupid choice of words. This is not the way a book should be making me think.

In the background, apparently Gillian has been visiting Dante, and he’s “ready for discharge.” Since I still think he’s the fuck-spirit from her dreams, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of him. Tanis is still missing and everyone is starting to think he’s dead please oh please

Gillian wants to go out and look for him–wow, something actually productive and proactive!–but nobody wants to let her, the IPPA included. Sweet Jesus, now even the narrative is trying to keep shit from happening.

Oh look, remember my rant about fencing? Apparently, Gillian fenced in college and “was damn good with a rapier, epée, side sword and foil.” Um, she must not have been doing sport fencing, then, because the three sport fencing weapons are foil, epée, and sabre. I don’t know what a side sword is, and the epée is the sport fencing equivalent of the rapier. There’s a “lack of protective equipment” despite having a quilted jacket like Gillian mentioned earlier. Gillian is doing this because it improves her skills. What skills, I don’t know, because fencing actually has very limited usefulness in actual combat other than basic hand-eyed dexterity, which I would expect her to have anyway. Sport fencing/dueling was actually designed to minimize injury; you hit your opponent, you back off. It’s heavily moderated. It has rules.

Yes, this is my pet irritation. I hate when people go directly to fencing as a combat training montage. If it seems like I’m wandering off into tangents, it’s because





So Dante wants to speak to Gillian. He tells her Tanis has been kidnapped by Dracula, so he’s not dead. Dammit. Dante is jealous because he can tell Tanis is who Gillian’s been fucking. Then we’re told outright that Dante is the one who’s fucking Gillian in her dreams. I have two things to say about this:

1) Wow, this is the most anticlimactic reveal ever


Fucking someone while they’re unconscious and unable to give consent, when they haven’t been given prior consent? IS RAPE.

laptop smash

And then there’s this gem of a line:

Memory of those visits stirred him, bringing his form into solid, hardened reality as he thought of sliding into creamy heat while she slept.

bill crosby yuck

I think “creamy heat” might be one of the grossest euphemisms I’ve ever read. I like some dirty shit in sex scenes and am not afraid of blunt phrasing, but euphemisms sometimes just make it icky. Let’s not forget he’s turned on at the thought of raping her. Just…fuck.

Dante wants her “dead or alive,” hurr hurr. “It didn’t matter to a Ghost if his girlfriend had a pulse or not, or was a noncorporeal being. What mattered was that Dante was a special Ghost.”

Serial killers think this way. I get what the author is trying to say here, but there is some bad, bad writing here.

More blunt info dump, because heaven forbid this realization come organically: Dante is “part Fey, Dark Elf to be exact, known among themselves as the Grael. He was inherently magical and could do a number of things that Ghosts normally had trouble with.” So the ghosts of supernatural beings are more powerful. See, this is interesting, which means that it won’t be developed at all.

We’re given a treatise on the Grael…I mean pages of it. Another candy bar that is pointless, out of place, and drags the pacing down, because right now Gillian is supposed to be delivering ostensibly important news to Aleksei.

And there the chapter ends. WTF?


The pattern of this book has become semi-reliable: in scenes where nothing happens, we dive right into offensive rape culture shit, and in scenes where something…kinda sorta happens, it’s because Gillian is an idiot, and the action/writing gets measurably worse. The men are nothing but aggressive, dick-waving Neanderthal fuck monsters and the narrative tries to pass that off as totes okay. I hope by now I’ve managed to establish now NOT OKAY all of this is. I am actually genuinely upset by the level of rape culture in the book that’s passed off as vampire/supernatural culture. It’s an excuse used the world over for oppression and discrimination and human rights violations, and the fact that the author has embedded it into this universe as an acceptable excuse is fucking disgusting.

jon stewart fuck this

Chapter 21 here. Chapter 22 coming soon if I can stomach it.


Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 20

So Gillian is going to ruin fencing for me now, it seems.

I was a fencer in college. I don’t proclaim to be an expert, by any means, but I know enough that most movie sword fights make me cry inside. I can just imagine what fun this will be.

I’m going to try very hard to believe that Gillian is indulging in an old-world fencing style with a “quilted fencing jacket, tight pants and soft, pigskin thigh-high boots.” Because this is what a sport fencer looks like these days:

Portrait of a fencer, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo by Darron R. Silva
Photo by Darron Silva,

White canvas jacket, which will eternally reek of sweat because you can’t wash that shit out, canvas capri pants that similarly reek of crotch sweat, dorky knee-high socks (mine were usually mismatched and some variant of these), some type of gym shoe (special fencing shoes if you have the money), and a helmet with the black mesh face mask and a quilted/padded neck, which is absolutely the grossest, smelliest part of the outfit. The girl above is wearing a lamé jacket, which is woven with conductive threads and marks off the valid scoring area. The foil, which is the weapon most people think of when they think of fencing, can only score within this area. The weapon is wired to a machine, and the tip of the foil only responds to the jacket to indicate a score. The weapon I preferred, the epée, is the style most people think of when they think of fencing, which is to say, the whole body is the target.

Now, I’m willing to accept that unless Aleksei is kinda serious about fencing as a sport hobby, he probably doesn’t have the whole getup with the electronics and shit. But there’s absolutely no reason why she should be wearing a quilted jacket unless she’s using an actual bladed weapon, and definitely no reason why she’d need boots like that. They’d be extremely hard to do shit like this in:

fencing lunge
This is epée, by the way, and the girl on the left is going to have a bruise on her knee for days.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry. This is just one of those pet annoyances.

While Gillian puts on her pointless fencing gear, she thinks about the vampires and how protective they all are and how much it drives her nuts, but she’s realizing they don’t really see her as powerful, etc. etc. but she’s really amazing, “a no-nonsense woman in a world of bullshit.”

i beg to differ cat

If you looked at Gillian’s ingredient label, it would read as follows: Water, Nonsense, High fructose corn syrup, Red dye 40. But no, the narrative insists that she “[kept] her own dynamic personality clamped down in favor of her patients’ needs and the clandestine requirements of her missions.”


I actually love that the author has the nerve to insist all of this after literally hundreds of pages of Gillian doing exactly the opposite. Gaslighting Gremlin has his work cut out for him here.

Pages and pages later, by the way, no mention of actual fencing other than her putting on her bullshit uniform. I’m almost sad that my angry rant has gone to waste in favor of a useless info dump.

Because she can’t go long without doing something completely idiotic, she sneaks outside without an escort even though she knows she shouldn’t and she’d get in trouble if she got caught. Gross and also stupid, but finally she’s loaded her gun with silver bullets.

Predictably, something is stalking her, and she’s about to get into trouble. Oh my fucking god, this woman is so stupid and boring, the only time she ever does something proactive, it’s completely senseless and she gets attacked every time.

einstein insanity

einstein stupidity

She backs away and goes to stand under a waterfall, for some reason. It must be a really small waterfall, because if you’ve ever been in a water park with one of those features, you know it’s not exactly easy to just chill there while paying attention to anything but the water aggressively trying to drown you from above. “It never occurred to her at that point to call for help. The thing was close, and she didn’t want to risk anyone’s life who might come to find her.

…don’t you just love how she justifies her own rampant idiocy as wanting to protect the people who are centuries older and, by her own admission, exponentially more powerful?

She says it’s not one of Aleksei’s wolves, but it’s a lycanthrope. Huh? What? She’s referred to Aleksei’s werewolves as lycanthropes before. What the hell is the difference? “Praying that the old legends were true and that a .40 caliber silver-point bullet would be enough…” YOU DON’T KNOW THIS?! She’s been in Aleksei’s household for six months and somehow doesn’t know how to defend herself against other supernatural beings?!

keep calm and don't expect too much

Gillian shoots the thing and it dies. She finally “[sends] out a mental broadcast for help,” even though logically she could have done so much earlier and, you know, actually told them that hey, she was being stalked by something but be careful because it might eat them.

She doubted even a Lycanthrope could survive having its head exploded by .40-caliber silver bullets” BUT YOU JUST SAID YOU DIDN’T KNOW WHETHER THE BULLETS WOULD WORK OMG

pony headdesk


Something else grabs her…and…it’s another vampire. One she doesn’t recognize. Of course he’s gorgeous. He shoots a fireball from his hand at the lycanthrope, and she notes that “regular Vampires couldn’t do that. Did that make him irregular? Thinking too much again. Aleksei was going to kill her.” Everything about that thought is stupid.

She can tell the vampire isn’t evil, and indeed he isn’t. She thinks his accent sounds Greek, so I’m betting it’s Dionysus. …walking through the forest…. randomly.


He carries her back toward the house, and by now I’m convinced that Talia Gryphon is unable to write a male character who is not a complete patronizing dickbag with every breath he takes. Indeed, he says, “A little thing like you should not be wandering around unattended. For a former soldier, you are incredibly undisciplined.” Again, like every other male in this book, he’s right about the latter  and a complete fuckstick about the former.

Here’s the most eye-rolling paragraph yet:

There, the nobly born, iron-willed, genteel, chauvinistic, Old-World Vampire and opinionated, liberated, feminist Marine were having issues with the subjective topic of Gillian being able to handle a preternatural threat alone, or Sexism in Survival Situations 101.

you keep using that word

Let me point out that the “Sexism in Survival Situations” thing is from Jurassic Park, which I assume means Gryphon is trying to compare Gillian with Dr. Sattler. As someone who idolized Dr. Sattler when I was a kid, I am incredulous and offended by this comparison. Dr. Sattler was cool. She was actually capable. She was actually sensible and stable, everything Gillian has actually never been this whole time. I’m also fucking offended that Gillian is being passed off as “liberated” and “feminist.”

Aleksei starts out by being (rightfully) pissed that she was stupid enough to wander off alone for no fucking reason, but then he starts to be impressed with the fact that she handled herself with a lycanthrope using “Human techniques,” which I can only guess means hiding under a waterfall, staring at the lycanthrope a bit, then shooting it. What a technique.

Aleksei gives in, and we’re treated to one of 64,364 paragraphs about how strong and pretty he is. It seems Gillian is slowly wearing him down with her repeated idiocy, because now he just wants her to tell them whenever she wants to go off alone instead if sensibly demanding she accept an escort because obviously shit happens whenever she wanders off. Repeatedly wandering off by yourself makes you neither strong nor liberated. It makes you a completely ridiculous person.

Aleksei tells her she’s “extraordinarily capable,” meaning he has a boner for her and he’s blowing smoke so far up her ass she’s coughing on it. She says, “I appreciate you noticing.”

anderson cooper trying not to laugh

Aleksei worries that maybe Gillian doesn’t need him after all, boohoo. End of chapter.




In some ways, this is sincerely the most ridiculous chapter yet. Gaslighting Gremlin seems to have taken up permanent residence, assuring me that nothing is wrong and everything is copacetic despite everything, EVERYTHING being wrong with this fucking book. I actually feel cheated out of being able to critique a fencing scene, because at least I’d have something to roll my eyes at to distract me from the directionless rage at every goddamn thing else.

I feel like I have indigestion after reading that. There is literally no point to her doing this. The thing is, I can see what the author is trying to do here: to establish Gillian’s capability to handle herself. It’s just that this is the worst possible way to do that, because all it demonstrates is that the “liberated feminist” doesn’t have the sense God gave little chickens.

How does a book like this get published? HOW? Even knowing that Gryphon is associated with LKH, I have to wonder how much arm-twisting was involved to get editors to pass this into print. If I were the editor that had to try to spit-shine this turd, I would quit, and I’m not even joking. But then, I’m not even convinced this thing ever actually saw an editor.

your book is bad

Chapter 19 here. Chapter 21 here.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 19

We skip ahead some weeks from Tanis’s disappearance because we’re rushing time along and heaven forbid the author has to go in depth about the emotional fallout of said disappearance. Hey, remember when the narrative told us Tanis wasn’t a big target? Yeah.

Gillian misses Tanis, but only as a friend, and “her commitment-phobic self was rather relieved that she had no decision to make as long as Tanis was gone.” I’m not sure what decision she’s referring to here. To bone Aleksei or not to bone? To get with Tanis on a permanent basis or not to? Dunno.

FINALLY we’re starting to get a sense of scope for Dracula’s invasion, which basically means bodies. I distinctly remember someone (Osiris?) saying that you’d never know vampires were waging a war because there’s no fighting. This isn’t exactly large-scale fighting, but it doesn’t seem to be as subtle as Osiris’s claim, either. Oh well, I guess this does show Dracula’s propensity for violence. I still don’t get why he’s attacking random humans rather than trying to come directly after Aleksei, though.

Aleksei goes to investigate the death of a human girl, and Gillian goes with him because “her expertise as a field operative and her background in criminal psychology would be useful.” Wait…who said she had a background in criminal psychology? I thought she was just a therapist. Not the same thing. You’d think, as a practicing therapist (*SHUDDER*), the author would know this. She’s apparently investigated crime scenes before. Christ, you know, just because someone is involved in some way with military or law enforcement doesn’t mean they know dick about crime scenes. Don’t shoehorn your character into a scene based on an inaccurate premise. Just give her a plausible reason to be there if it’s that important.


If you’ll allow me to take a little detour here, I just realized something. This book is full of candy bars.

Holly Lisle, who’s relatively well-known for lots of writing advice, defines “candy bar scenes” as the fun ones you’re just dying to write, the ones you really look forward to. I feel like this entire book is Talia Gryphon’s Halloween basket full of sweets occasionally laced with the razor blades of incompetence and the poison of misogyny. The only thing holding them together is the fact that they’re in the same ugly plastic bucket. She shows a lot of interest in these scenes, but there’s virtually nothing of substance. Don’t get me wrong, I can eat peanut butter cups all day errday, but occasionally I want some fucking kale to balance it out.


Anyway. the girl has a bunch of bite marks and she’s been drained of blood, etc. Apparently, based on her position (??) it’s apparent there was sex involved. Aleksei is pissed, and we’re told that “Children under eighteen years were forbidden to be considered as prey of any kind and certainly not meant as a lover for a Vampire or any Paramortal.” Now, hold up. Why eighteen? Let’s remember that the whole age of majority thing is a relatively recent and definitely Western concept. If Vampires can be hideously “old-fashioned” when it comes to sexism, why are they so upright when it comes to the age of their prey/lover? How young was this girl, anyway?

It’s also telling and gross that a sex crime, especially a sex crime against someone underage, is the first thing authors so often go to when they want to demonstrate how bad the villain is. It’s not enough that someone’s bodily autonomy is violated by being assaulted (*COUGH*), or even murdered. It has to involve sex because Dracula is A Real Bad Guy. They’re making a bigger deal about the fact that she was young and there was sex involved than the fact that she’s, y’know, dead. Unfortunately, this is so expected and so typical, and it comes right back around to gender politics.

Wait. Wait. She was seventeen. Are you fucking kidding me? One year or less before this magical boundary of adulthood? Crossing this magical boundary in this world, by the way, apparently that it’s totes acceptable for her to be prey for a vampire.

gross i'm leaving

Now we’re told that Gillian “wasn’t a crime scene investigator, didn’t do lab work, wouldn’t solve the crime; but she could do a down-and-dirty investigation on site and give her immediate impressions of the scene, the victim and probable cause.” …what? You’re not a crime scene analyst, but you can…basically do it anyway?

wrong try again

Let’s not forget that the fact that she’s been drained of blood from vampire bite marks, and pretty much anybody with at least one moderately functioning eyeball can tell what the cause of death was just by looking at her.

But oh, apparently Gillian’s knowledge of sexual predators is “informative.” Whatever that means. This for whatever reason makes Aleksei freak out, picturing Gillian facing down a sexual predator. I just don’t even anymore.

It wasn’t clear before, but we’re told now that Gillian is essentially holding court over this dead body, telling everyone what happened. Because this human woman in her 20s is going to tell centuries-old supernatural beings about a murder done by vampires because said supernatural beings aren’t as rad as her, despite the fact that she’s seemed terminally clueless about supernaturals this whole goddamn time.

Basically, this is a treatise about how amazing Gillian is and how Aleksei’s “old fashioned” beliefs are being changed by her amazingness. But don’t worry, he’s not going to “pursue” her for another six months. Wow, has it been six months already? But I thought Tanis had only been missing for a few weeks, and before that, she’d only been fucking him a couple months apparently, and…

joffrey shrug

Aleksei and Gillian go to talk to the other vampires in the area. They’re told that

Establishing the local Vampires who answered to him as guards had been necessary for several reasons. Aleksei didn’t want any of them hunted down and killed by an overzealous populace. Along with the Lycanthropes, they were the first and best defense to guard against Dracula’s infiltration and they needed the network.

Why the fuck didn’t they do this six months ago? For that matter, what the fuck have they been doing for six months, besides practicing heavy misogyny, banging, or trying to avoid banging?


The townspeople are very generous and the mayor brings them a list of people who will let the vampires feed from them. Aww, that’s…creepy.

“A single blood-tinged tear ran from Aleksei’s eye, and he had to swallow past the lump in his throat. To say he was touched was an understatement.”



Gillian says “Wow,” and he asks her what she means. This is the most inane conversation. We’re told for the bajillionth time that he’s huge and sex and she’s tiny and cute and smells good. “Fangs pressed against the tissues of his mouth, trying to descend as his groin was beginning to swell; both areas demanding him to penetrate and sample her.”

HERP DERP PENETRATE. Wow, what an awkward sentence.

missing the pocket

 He keeps calling her piccola. Like every sentence. Sometimes it’s tacked on to some other stupid diminutive like “piccola capitana.” Considering Tanis ripped off this stupid nickname from JC of Anita Blake fame, it’s mildly awkward that now Aleksei is using it. I dunno, if I’m fucking a guy and his brother starts calling me by the same unique (stupid) nickname, I might feel awkward.

This conversation is supposed to make me feel sympathetic about Aleksei because the townspeople love him despite having no reason to. Gillian is very impressed and has thoughts about him, which he reads, and that’s totally okay because reasons. He’s still the same invasive, meddling, manipulative douche he was earlier, but now she likes him and she wants to get on his dick, see, so it’s all good. All she says is,

“Shithead, stay the hell out of my mind until you’re invited.” She grinned as she took a halfhearted cuff at him, then went to find Maeti for fencing.

 Fencing? Wat?


I suppose I have to give the author credit here for trying to do a modicum of forward momentum and world building here, except that this is Chapter 19 and it’s almost 60% of the way through the book. The narrative itself says it’s been six months since Gillian showed up. I guess things might crawl along when you have immortals involved, but Speed of Plot here still seems ridiculously slow. I mean, I get it. We’re aiming to end up with Gillian and Aleksei fucking, because it’s a romance novel and that’s how it works. Still, like every single thing else, it’s so goddamn contrived.

And let’s not forget the extremely troublesome mention of the teenager who’s dead from bites and sex. This is another stupid pseudo-feminist consent thing that’s actually anti-feminist, much like this hideous chapter. The fact that it was so horrifying that a 17-year-old had sex, but it would be fine if she was 18, and the fact that this is why Aleksei gets pissed off–not that she was murdered–is fucking gross and harmful and shaming, and eye-rollingly arbitrary besides. As a matter of fact, this is the entire chapter:


eye roll belle

eye roll wonka

eye roll liz lemon

eye roll judge judy

Chapter 18 is here. Chapter 20 here.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 18

Previously, on Such Shit, So Vampire: Wow, Gillian and Aleksei are about to be all up ons when the phone rings. Predictably, Tanis shows up at that very moment, and somehow he doesn’t seem to suspect anything. She runs over to Tanis and is all up on him, because suddenly now they’re a sweet couple or something.

jim carrey hork

Tanis is leaving for the extremely peripheral diplomatic mission to…someone of no significance. He suspects there’s something going on between Aleksei and Gillian, but he says (in telepathic-talk, though I’m still not sure why that exists), “Yes, but I want it clear, Aleksei. Take care of her. I charge you with her happiness and well-being.” Aleksei apparently understands this, but I do not. Is Tanis trying to get them to fuck? If that’s the case, why is the narrative implying that Tanis isn’t thrilled they have the hots for each other?

And is there anyone who doesn’t think Tanis is going to die?

They apparently said “the long goodbye” the previous night.

eye roll arrested development

Then he left in a swirl of cape and gleam of boots.” I literally just lol’ed.

The narrative assures us that Gillian cares about Tanis as a friend mind you, and she’s all conflicted about Aleksei. This is at least an attempt at emotional depth, which deserves a head pat.

But oh, the phone call? Aleksei is finding out that Gillian has been a fucking idiot.

i'm shocked

She hasn’t been answering emails or calls, so the IPPA calls Aleksei to find out if she’s okay.

What the actual fuck? Every time she takes a break from being a complete TSTL moron, she comes back with a vengeance. If you’re doing a very sensitive, dangerous operation and, by the way, trying to keep the magnitude a secret from your vampire friends for no goddamned reason, why the hell wouldn’t you let your bosses think you’re MIA? This woman is utterly, loathesomely incompetent.

But the author doesn’t seem to care about how her character comes off, because this whole setup was created so Aleksei finds out that Gillian has been keeping secrets for no goddamned reason omg why.

Anubis comes in and Aleksei tells him what’s wrong. Anubis cautions him not to talk to Gillian while he’s furious, which seems like good advice, given the propensity toward violence or threats of violence that seems to run in this godforsaken family.

But I also understand Aleksei’s anger completely. I mean, this isn’t petty shit. She withheld information that affects all of them, and he has every right to be toweringly angry. When Aleksei tells him all about it, Anubis is pissed, too.

Oh my god, does this mean the vampires are going to kill her for being an idiot? Pleeeeeeeeaaaase? Can we get a smarter main character? No? Fuck.

Despite finding Gillian being threatened hysterical earlier, Anubis actually tries to intervene this time and tells Aleksei not to scare her. Aleksei says, “That is where our opinions differ, Anubis. I fully intend to frighten her.And you know what, I almost agree with him, except for one important fact: I know we’re supposed to believe that Aleksei is a heroic character, not an anti-hero. He’s not supposed to be as repulsive as he is.

Aleksei calls Gillian into the library. “Propelling her forward, he took her to the desk. Half sitting on it, he pressed her hips against his thigh, his hand in the small of her back, and reached for a notepad.” I can’t picture this position oh no yes I can is he going to spank her again FUCK THIS BOOK FUCK IT SO HARD

She catches on that he found out about her needless secrets and wants her to explain. Here’s what she has to say:

“I didn’t want to scare everyone to death, Aleksei. You all are so concerned about me all the time. There are whole villages, countries, hundreds, thousands of people who are at risk, and they have no idea of the danger they are in.

you are an idiot


Oh, yup, he’s fixin’ to spank her.

jodi foster pissed

This, THIS is how she realizes he cares about her, because he’s…scared enough to spank her, or something. THIS is how she realizes she fucked up and she needs to apologize.




adventure time crying

And then we get this: “Hearing truth in her words and realizing that she was scared, he stood her upright. He didn’t want her to be afraid of him.”


“That is where our opinions differ, Anubis. I fully intend to frighten her.”

“That is where our opinions differ, Anubis. I fully intend to frighten her.” 


She’d hurt him, frightened him for no reason and she knew it. That didn’t feel very good. Maybe the spanking would be less painful.”

sweater i'm done

I am sputtering with indignation. It’s not even completely rage at this point, though that is definitely fucking present too. I just… THIS MAKES NO SENSE OMG WHY

Excuse me, I need a moment to consider my life choices.

He decides not to spank her. Instead he hugs her, and she smells like “sunlight, snow and clover.” I’m pretty sure this is the…third time her smell has been referenced? And it’s been slightly different every time. This makes her sound like a Victoria’s Secret perfume. She’s small and blonde and etc. etc. etc. because those descriptors are the most important ones. He wants to fuck her real bad blah blah they’re interrupted again, thank god. Somebody needs Aleksei and everybody hurries out.

Holy fuck, is something going to HAPPEN?

Oh, there’s a body!

Could it be…could it really…

GODDAMMIT IT’S NOT TANIS. It’s some random werewolf, who’s been “impaled lengthwise on a thick wooden stake.” I’m not sure what that means, exactly. Is he impaled through the stomach or, like, the way Vlad the Impaler actually did it, which is a giant wooden stake up the ass? And can you kill a werewolf with a stake?

i dunno lol

The werewolf has the word “Voldevode” (“warlord”) carved into his chest, which might just be the first actual Romanian word in the whole damn book. Aleksei says, “Dracula’s personal calling card. He is here.

Hasn’t he been here since his lackey attacked Gillian? If not, why the fuck has he been waiting all this time? Did he personally kill this nameless werewolf, and if so, why that guy? Why does he matter? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON??

Aleksei tries to contact Tanis telepathically. Tanis isn’t there. Ooo boy, is he dead yet? Aleksei hugs Gillian and says, “I cannot locate Tanis.”


Chapter ends.


It’s like the author has completely lost control of this book, and everyone is terrible, an idiot, or both.  My confidence in the story that everything will turn out well and make sense, which might allow me to hang with anything that seems icky or terrible, was never developed, because from the beginning, everyone has been a complete tool. I shouldn’t be hoping Tanis is dead. I should feel the gravity of the situation and understand the stakes. But this story is as incompetent as its main character. Goddammit, I am just so mad at this book.

Remember this guy? This is for everyone in this book.

you suck and that's sad

Chapter 17 here. Chapter 19 coming soon.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 17

So far, the entire book has been this:

sheep vs cow

show don't tell

feminism you're doing it wrong

could you fucking not

The action, especially, has been the first one. “Oh, this is finally going somewhere–oh, nope. Just another throwaway scene.” We’re 52% of the way through the book and absolutely goddamn nothing of significance has happened. I can’t even use the “well, it’s a romance, so they’re building romantic tension” reasoning anymore as a desperate attempt to find some reason behind all this bullshit. What minuscule forward momentum there is, occasionally, is completely undercut by the fact that Gillian isn’t involved in any of it.

I will say, though, that reading books like this gives me a good sense of what not to do ever ever.

Anyway, Gillian goes back to Dante, who “apparently [does] have connections” like he told her. wtf? This is the kind of stupid sentence that’s very common in this book. It’s like saying, “He frowned. Apparently he was angry.”

no shit sherlock

Dante says ghosts are with Osiris and Dionysus because of reasons that are relatively reasonable. Apparently they’ll treated as second-class citizens by Dracula, though why, we’re not told. We’re also given a list of other paranormal creatures, presumably by way of worldbuilding and scope. Needless to say, this fails miserably. She mentions the Sluagh, which I had to look up. How fucking hard is it to add a sentence explaining any terms you can reasonably assume the reader will be unfamiliar with? As I’ve said before, you can’t rely on the reader’s assumed knowledge of the paranormal in order to fill in your lazy worldbuilding gaps.

There’s some mention of the Sidhe being depicted by human media as ridiculous (i.e. Keebler elves, Santa Claus, Disney characters, etc.) which might be amusing if it weren’t a) self-indulgent and b) a subtly uncomfortable and fallacious comparison to the depiction of human minority groups in the media.

However, I’m entirely convinced that these paragraphs are constructed around this one sentence:

J.R.R. Tolkien, in contrast, was a hero among the Fey, having brought Elves and others into the full glare of celebrity; as was TSR and related companies for Dungeons & Dragons and other role playing games, and author Laurell K. Hamilton with her Merry Gentry series.

goat licking

As Mrs. Giggles points out, Talia Gryphon was once Laurell K. Hamilton’s bodyguard, and LKH is responsible for Gryphon’s unfortunate book deal. Mrs. Giggles says this is on LKH’s official website, but quite frankly I can’t be arsed to track that information down.

As I was trying to confirm this, however, I stumbled across some horrifying information.





are you fucking kidding me

crying gif



I really don’t want to cast aspersions on Ms. Gryphon’s own professional competence based on how she represents her profession in her book, but I kind of want to. The number of things she fucks up that I, a layman, can spot is astounding and shameful. And I know, I know, that I’m meant to think Gillian is this amazing therapist. This makes me sincerely sad.

PS, if you ever want to read a good female law enforcement character written by a practicing therapist, read Toby Neal. I’ve read her first two mystery books. Her main character, Lei, is an honestly flawed but sympathetic heroine who’s troubled but competent. And infinitely more likeable than our beloved Gillian.

Back to the action-free info dump. Vampires are sending envoys everywhere, blah blah politics, this could be interesting if I cared. The narrative calls Aleksei a “VIP in Fangdom” HURR HURR GET IT YOU GUYS FANGDOM FANDOM HURRRRR

The narrative also tells us Tanis is “a target but not an obvious one.” I…what? How is the brother of a “VIP in Fangdom” not an obvious target? If I were Dracula…well, first, I’d have been smart enough to kill Gillian, and second, I’d definitely kill Count Rachlav’s brother. Anyway, Tanis is going to run off and be the envoy.

Gillian is unhappy about this because she’s worried about him and also they’re fucking. Gillian gives in, “recognizing male muleheadedness in the Reborn.” Well, first, I’ve never seen her refer to the “Reborn” before, so I can only assume she means vampires. Second, the idea of “male muleheadedness” irritates me, and I’ll explain why: both vampires are described as sex objects in a really ironic way. Much is said of their looks, their sexiness, their sexual prowess, their physical strength, but nothing of their intelligence or charm or shrewdness or competence. It could very well be that they don’t have any of those things (and indeed, I’d have to say they don’t). The only character traits they seem to possess in abundance are stubbornness and protectiveness.

This is a perfect example of how patriarchy affects men, too. It certainly doesn’t affect assigned-at-birth males the same way, given that most cultures in the world grant socialized privileges and advantages to these individuals, but really, everyone suffers. If men can only be sexy and powerful but not smart or competent, for example, what does that say about women?

What it says is that in order to be empowered, women need to ape men and be sexy and powerful, but intelligence and competence don’t matter so much. Sound familiar? …yeah.


Gillian thinks about her relationship with Tanis and “what her life would be like if he weren’t in it.”

So basically, he’s going to die. Got it.

She says, “liking him had come easily, despite his chauvinistic overtones.” Overtones? His entire character is nothing but chauvinism with an overtone of jackass. What is there to like about this guy?

Apparently they’ve been banging for months, which is news to me, because I’ve been given very little idea about how much time has passed. This is something I think a lot of authors forget or don’t think about (including myself), but this book is already so frustrating, it’s just another thing that loses me. I’m pretty sure this chapter exists solely because someone told the author she needed more worldbuilding and some time needed to pass before the next red herring action-that-goes-nowhere scene.

The narrative tells us that Gillian’s “major flaw” is that “she had no idea how to truly love someone.” Standard romance character flaw, but let’s not act like it’s the only goddamn one. She says, “If Tanis had forced her to confront [her commitment phobia], he would get Gill at her worst: a first class bully.


you keep using that word

Being a bully is no fucking joke. It is a bad, bad thing. If Gillian turns into a bully when confronted about her problems, that is a bigger fucking flaw than being commitment phobic. It means she makes people’s lives hell because she doesn’t get her fucking way. This is the definition of bullying. (Just a Wikipedia article, but I’ll throw a trigger warning out there anyway.)

If Gillian is indeed a bully, fuck her.

But sadly, I don’t think this is really what the author means, because that sentence is shortly followed by this one: “Sometimes being a bitch was all she had.” Being a bitch is NOT THE SAME THING AS BULLYING.

fuck you

I need a nap.

She’s finally starting to catch on that Aleksei has the hots for her, but she insists she’ll wait until after the year-long waiting period is up before she thinks about her own hots for him. We’ll see how long that lasts. I’m doubtful that this trend can continue if, as I suspect, Aleksei is supposed to be the Real Love Interest. Maybe that’s why we’re fast-forwarding through the plot at this point.

Now we’re in Aleksei’s head:

His normally high tolerance was being strained at every turn. Gillian’s proclivity for getting into hazardous situations was wearing thin as his newly evolving feelings for the little blonde shrink were growing more intense.

My fucking god, must we toss in the objectifying bullshit every time someone thinks about her? I should start paying better attention and try to figure out if he ever directly thinks about her by name.

Aleksei is turning bitchy because he’s distracted by his massive feelings boner for Gillian, and everyone notices. They “[gave] him a wide berth and [let] the Lord of the Manor climb his own pinnacle.” I’ve never heard this phrase before, and it strikes my ear wrong. Maeti notes that “the pinnacle was looking more and more like Gillian’s lithe and lush form every night.” Which makes me wonder if they’re already boning? I don’t know what the fuck.


Sekhmet and Anubis seem to have the same reaction, but then it seems like the author voice intrudes to say,

People who are happy in their own committed relationships tend to be monumental pains in the ass. They believe that everyone needed to be paired up and deliriously happy, just like them.

…wow, that’s…bitter. I don’t feel like this is Gillian’s voice, either. Now, I’m in a committed relationship, and I don’t believe everyone needs to be “paired up.” I mean, for one thing, we’re poly, so pairing is of less import to us than monogamous people, but also, I’m not an asshole who assumes everyone even wants to be in a relationship. Thanks for that.

Oh, here we go, we’re now going to discredit the other female characters by saying that Sekhmet tries to have “girl talk” about Anubis’s sexual prowess. (If I haven’t mentioned it before, Sekhmet and Anubis are a mated pair, which makes no sense, as to my knowledge, these two characters have never been associated in Egyptian mythology. I don’t always follow mythological canon in my own work, so I can give this a pass, I guess.) The salient point here is that Sekhmet, who is, by all mythological accounts, a badass, as been reduced here to a giggling, doting girlfriend. It’s gross.

Cezar brings Pavel around to apologize, and Gillian has the (alleged) good grace to say it was her fault. At least she kinda-sorta recognizes that. Aleksei comes in and is threatening. Two weird things in this narrative exchange:

1) Pavel is referred to as a “budding alpha wolf,” and is earlier referred to as dominant, yet he is terrified of everyone and everything, and completely shy and retiring.

2) Aleksei notes that “Pavel and Cezar join the Gillian Key Admiration Society.”

Number two especially strikes me, and it’s one of those moments where the author shows some self insight, but I’m not sure I can rely on it as self insight. Is she actually aware that she’s making her universe bend around her idiot Mary Sue and is making fun of it, or is this the most unintentionally ironic thing ever?


Cezar invites Gillian to a pack meeting “and to run with them if she would like,” whatever that means. It’s a nice gesture of goodwill, and Aleksei hates it. “He trusted Cezar implicitly, but wasn’t up for Gillian cavorting about in the midst of all that teeth and fur.” Either he trusts Cezar to keep control of his pack or he doesn’t. Why is he upset?

When the werewolves leave, Gillian promptly turns to him, her eyes “snapping in anger.” I…don’t think eyes work that way. What an awkward phrase.

Aaaand she punches him without warning for being an asshole to Pavel. While a dressing down is warranted, has she learned nothing about becoming violent with these vampires? For fuck’s sake.

She tells him not to babysit her and thinks, “The entire company of resident Vampires were on her like white on rice as if she were a delicate little flower. Drove her nuts.” She is obsessed with being delicate. Next comes this:

Reading her thoughts readily, since she was broadcasting like AM radio, he managed a smirk. “You are delicate, piccola. Much more delicate than you imagine.”

For some reason, stupid, patronizing, or otherwise offensive statements are nearly always accompanied by poor craft in this book. This sounds like a veiled threat, in addition to being paternalistic, and also, I hate the way she tosses in mind-reading as if it were a given, and I also have no idea what “broadcasting” means. There’s absolutely no world building surrounding this. How do vampires read thoughts? Can they do it all the time? Can other people learn to keep this from happening?

keep calm and don't expect too much

Gillian says, “Damn. Shit. And hell,” thereby cementing my mental image of her as a 13-year-old who’s trying out curse words for the first time. She goes on about how sexy Aleksei is when he’s mad, which, along with every fucking thing else in this book, is highly troublesome. He has the potential to do her serious harm, but oh, she wants to climb him like a tree! I get the fantasy–that’s what PNR is based on, after all–but it’s still fucking creepy in this context when she’s been actively threatened and physically assaulted by these vampires in the recent past.

Gillian lectures him that she’s capable, blah blah, and this is my favorite part: “I know exactly what I’m doing. I am being careful. I am being mindful of my safety.”

the lady doth protest too much

Really? So that whole thing with Pavel was her being mindful of her safety? As is her repeated wandering off by herself and getting into stupid scrapes? Okay then.

Oh, but wait. BUT WAIT.

Far from exploding in fury, Aleksei regarded her with glacial calm, as the deep beautiful voice rumbled from his chest. “Perhaps it would drive home the point of just how vulnerable and easily overpowered you are if I demonstrate exactly what little effort will be required to put you over my knee.”



I already hated Aleksei pretty bad, but NOW I FUCKING HATE HIM EVEN MORE. He knows that Gillian was humiliated and disturbed by Tanis’s completely fucking repulsive behavior. He saw it happen and didn’t do fuck all, which was bad enough. Now he’s threatening her with exactly the same thing? I cannot express how terrible this makes him.

For once, Gillian is right: “We are not living in the fucking seventeenth century! You can’t just spank someone because they don’t agree with you!


I am so glad she said this, but then I immediately wonder why the fuck she never said this to Tanis. Am I supposed to think she came to this realization over time? WHAT?

And here’s how Aleksei responds: “I am an Old-World man; if I must resort to direct methods of convincing you, I will. That you will be alive to hate me is a small price to pay.

Remember that part in Twilight where Edward basically stalked Bella and kept her from going anywhere? Remember that part where it was fucking abusive?


Gillian is afraid of him, as well she should be, and Aleksei has smoothly stepped into Tanis’s place as resident asshole. Gillian wants to know why her remaining alive means so much to Aleksei, which is really kind of sad. This would be a genuinely good and characterizing moment in a book that wasn’t as hatefully stupid as this one.

Aleksei gets in her face and tells her she matters to him and calls her a bunch of Italian endearments WHY ITALIAN GODDAMMIT

This is the romantic turning point, it seems, brought to you by Chauvinism and Abusive Behavior. Oh boy!

Gillian looked at him as a man for the first time. Not as a patient, not as a Vampire, not as a resource, but as a man who was trying desperately to put her needs above his own even if he pissed her off doing it.

Again, a potentially decent moment in a context that was less hideous.

Except then we have a whole paragraph of excuses, how he’s really old and from a different time etc. etc. and he has bad habits about women etc. etc., because apparently when you live for centuries you stagnate in one mindset instead of adapting, just like humans never ever change or adapt throughout their decades of life–

oh wait.

She finally realizes he’s falling for her. They Want Each Other, y’all. There’s some bad description about how turned on they both are and they’re about to fuck when the phone rings.

Thank god that’s over.


I haven’t been annoyed in a chapter so much or so often in a while. Everyone is behaving terribly about everyone else, there’s a bunch of dumb nonsensical shit, and then there’s some eye-rollingly blatant ass-licking for LKH. AND THEN we’re back to the sexual politics that make me want to throw up.

This book is dumb. It makes no sense. I hate it and I hate everyone in it. But it has transformed from silly-bad to stupid-bad to aggressively bad and wrong. Let’s not forget the part where Gryphon is supposed to be a mental health professional.


Chapter 16 is here. Chapter 18 here.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 16

Gillian hasn’t done anything wildly stupid as a therapist lately–comparatively speaking–so I guess it’s time for her to take up her own slack.

She diagnoses Pavel with PTSD. You know, like Dante. I could buy this somewhat better in Pavel’s case, I still don’t really see it. Maybe I’m wrong. Still, not every reaction to trauma is indicative of PTSD. Again, do your goddamn research, and show it. If I had more confidence in the author, I might buy it, but this is how much confidence I have in her:

about this much

So, as I suspected, Pavel’s allergy is a reaction to fur, which stems from the dog attack. She over-explains this in a tone that reads to me as incredibly patronizing, and then she wants to do something, predictably, and hugely, stupid:

She wants to hypnotize the client she’s been working with for, if I had to guess, maybe an hour.


The worst that can happen,” she claims, “is that we fail. You will be no worse off.”

Are you fucking serious here??

She is asking a client who is, by her own goddamn admission, extremely vulnerable, to undergo hypnosis and essentially relive this extremely traumatic event, and she’s saying, no big deal, if this thing goes wrong, you’ll be fine.

What about, I don’t know, serious emotional trauma? You know, the thing that’s your fucking JOB to deal with? For someone who likes to diagnose PTSD and allegedly is so great at dealing with trauma victims because of her “natural empathy,” she sure seems to give zero fucks about potential consequences for her actions.

Oh, wait, maybe she’s come to her senses. She tells him they don’t have to do this if he’s not comfortable.

NOPE. He says he’s not comfortable but he’ll do it anyway.


i have no idea what i'm doing dog

This shit is like the dumbest, most cartoonish version of therapy I’ve ever read. And predictably, it turns out horribly. 

She hypnotizes him, and we switch POVs to Aleksei for no goddamn reason. All of a sudden they hear a “blood-curdling howl.”

Oh, remember the part where Pavel is a goddamn werewolf?

Much to my disappointment, this is not the end of the book, and Gillian does not die in a pool of blood and festering stupidity. Aleksei, Cezar (the alpha werewolf), and Tanis barge in “with blurring speed” to find Gillian facing Pavel down with her gun. The one that’s still probably not loaded with silver bullets. Remember that? Because I doubt the author does. We’re told “That she hadn’t plugged him already was amazing. No one would have blamed her.”


Aleksei moves “with blurring speed” again (don’t you love when authors find cliched pet phrases?) and manages to get himself between Pavel and Gillian. If I could give Gryphon any credit for subtlety here (I won’t), it’s to note that it’s Aleksei, and not Tanis, who makes this move to protect Gillian.

Anyway, Tanis gets Pavel restrained and everyone stares at each other like idiots. Cezar starts apologizing for Pavel, and Gillian whines, “I don’t know what happened. He shifted on me while he was under hypnosis.

little girl crushing soda can in anger



towering rage

You are a goddamn (allegedly) trained therapist who specializes in paranormal creatures. How is a werewolf shifting in response to hypnosis about a shifting-related trauma not a completely predictable outcome? HOW, I ask you? But no, she keeps insisting that she doesn’t know what happened. I know a fair bit about therapy because I’ve researched it, I’ve been in therapy for years, and I live with someone who has a graduate degree in psychology, but goddammit, I don’t think it takes any of those experiences to know that a werewolf might react to trauma by fucking shifting.

Cezar takes Pavel away and the vampires ask her what happened. She worries about breaking confidentiality, except in this case she has an obligation to do so.

Fuck. It’s like someone gave the author a Psychology 101 textbook, only the pages were all ripped out and she tossed them on her living room floor so she could pick out the ones that sounded the most interesting and use the most interesting words from them.

do you even research, bro?

Gillian begs them to tell Cezar not to kill Pavel because it isn’t his fault this happened. YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT IT ISN’T IT’S YOUR FAULT YOU IRRESPONSIBLE ASSHOLE.

Aleksei carries her off to bed because she’s in shock. He wants to send her one of the female vampires because “You do not need Tanis tonight.” I can’t decide whether he (the author, more like) thinks he’s being nice by dictating her needs or whether he’s being a jealous asshole.

He puts her down on the bed and all of a sudden he has an overwhelming urge to bone her into next Thursday. He doesn’t, though, because “she would misinterpret his desire for her as only sexual and that would destroy her trust in him.” I don’t really understand that logic, but shit, at least someone in this goddamn book occasionally figures out there’s such a thing as boundaries.

Aleksei leaves the room and angsts. Maeti, the faceless vampire BFF, points out that she can tell Aleksei has the hots for her and he’s dismayed because she knows. I’m not sure how everyone in the household doesn’t know.

Gillian reads her email/news from the IPPA about more therapist/operatives going missing, being found dead, etc., y’know, the same shit she hasn’t told the Rachlavs about yet. Maeti wisely points out that they need to know because “it concerns your safety and ours.” These are basically the first words we’ve heard from Maeti and already she’s the most reasonable person, aside from Osiris, in the whole goddamn book. Gillian has this to say:

“I haven’t told him for that very reason, Maeti. Everyone is half crazy trying to protect me. Don’t you think these others had protection? It didn’t help them…How will it make a difference if I add more worry into the mix?”



Did you miss the part where Maeti said this also concerns the others’ safety? FUCK.

Strangely but unsurprisingly, Maeti doesn’t insist, nor does she reinforce the “this concerns other people too” part. She just says,

“You do what you want, my friend, but when he does find out, and he will, you will be sorry you did not disclose this when you were able to.”

To which Gillian says, “I know. That’s what worries me.



I suppose I have to be impressed by the level of stupidity in this chapter. In fact, I think Gillian has reached a new height of TSTL. At this point, it’s the stupidity that is carrying the plot in a very literal sense. I’m just betting that if she told the vampires about what the fuck is going on with the other therapists getting murdered, it would be like giving that one tucked-in end of your post-bath towel a little tug so it falls off and your naked junk is on full display. Ain’t nothing to hide at that point, and whatever tenuous threads of plot that are left would fall apart. And I don’t get it! There’s a war on, yes? Why are we mired in this cesspool of stupid subplots and pointless, contrived interpersonal conflicts?

Oh, right, because this is a romance novel, and the heroine has to repeatedly be put in danger so the sex behemoth alpha male can realize his True Feelings for her.

I’ve decided this is my new theme song for reading this book:

Chapter 15 is here. Chapter 17 is here.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conflict, Chapter 15


That’s how much I care about the wolfponies surrounding Gillian.

She reaches for her gun–I guess she plans to test supernatural reflexes against her own–but then realizes it’s loaded with regular ammunition rather than silver.

Yeah. So.

Pretend you’re a self-described Special Forces officer who’s an expert in the paranormal. You know things like werewolves exist, and you carry a silver stiletto knife that you like to inappropriately attack people with. Would it not occur to you to, I don’t know, maybe keep silver ammunition around?

lower your expectations

The werewolf grabs her hand “in jaws that would have made a shark proud,” but she’s talking about what would happen if she were nicked by its teeth. Huh? It just bit her, didn’t it?

She stands still while the werewolves surround her, pissed off because she’s so close to the house but in terrible danger. WHY DOESN’T SHE YELL FOR HELP FOR FUCK’S SAKE? If she’s ten feet from the door and vampires have super hearing, why the actual fuck won’t she open her trap and yell? And why isn’t she reacting to the fact that her hand is in a werewolf’s mouth?

All of a sudden Aleksei shows up and says, “Do not move, Gillian. They are here at my request.


Aleksei tells her to go for the door. She does, then he tells her to stop. WHYYYYYY

Without explanation, he tells her to stick her hand out. I still don’t understand how she got her hand away in the first place and why she’s not bleeding all over, but I have to assume the werewolf didn’t grab her hard enough to break skin. The head werewolf sniffs her and Aleksei tells them to protect her. He’s Very Scary as he does this, and Gillian seems to be impressed. “Looking up at him made her feel rather small and delicate. He was so much taller and his frame much more massive.” YES OH MY GOD WE GET IT SHE’S TINY HE’S A BEHEMOTH. I’m starting to think this is meant to be some kind of macro/micro porn.

Predictably, Aleksei is furious about Gillian going off alone and coming back after dark. I almost agree with him on this one, except no Rachlav worry would be complete without some abusive behavior. “He grabbed her, shaking her just hard enough to frighten her a little. He was furious. ‘Dammit, you could have been torn apart!'”

maybe go fuck yourself

Having an emotional reaction to the idea of someone you care about being in danger is one thing, but I hate, hate that it’s completely acceptable for either one of the Rachlavs to act like this, or to try to teach her a lesson. That is, essentially, what he’s doing here, in this disgustingly paternalistic way. I don’t have any beef with him pointing out her stupidity–in fact, later on the page, he says, “disregarding obvious safety measures is inexcusable,” and he’s completely right. But her idiocy doesn’t excuse his bullshit, either. What’s the worst part is that both behaviors are completely excused.

Aleksei threatens her: “Do not put yourself at risk again, Gillian. I will take action next time.” It seems Passive McStagedressing has turned into Tanis Stand-in, using threats of violence to…prevent her from being a victim of violence. This is the logic of Key to Conflict, everybody.

Tanis shows up and is also mad as well, but, generous fella that he is, he chooses not to lecture/threaten her as well because “she didn’t need both of them yelling at her.” Stand-up guy.

Tanis wants to bang, but all of a sudden he’s worried about propriety. “‘I do not want to assume that you would want me in your bed, piccola.”



Gillian replies, “‘Tanis, relationships don’t work that way. You are welcome unless I tell you specifically that I want to be alone.’


If you’re in a relationship, it is (maybe) assumed that you don’t mind the other person’s presence unless otherwise stated, but they’re acting here like being a relationship automatically means consent to sex at any time unless explicitly stated otherwise. This is so, so wrong and so, so harmful. It’s like the author has no idea what consent actually is or how it works and certainly has no conception of what constitutes sexual assault vs. sexy times. Has she never heard of partner rape, for fuck’s sake? Gillian and Tanis have been fucking for…I don’t even know, exactly. A week? A couple weeks? That by no means assumes any consent whatsoever. What the fuck is so wrong with saying,

“I’m not sure if I’m welcome in your bed.”

“Well, you’re welcome.”

“Okay, cool. We’ll bang, okay?”

Though what the conversation should really look like is this:

“I’m not sure I’m welcome in your bed after I’ve repeatedly sexually assaulted you.”

“Get the fuck away from me.”

“Noted. Bye.”

Well, they’re going to have sex, of course. Gillian notices he might be jealous, but she thinks, “Jealousy? Tanis? No, not possible.” …why not? Just because you’re in a casual relationship doesn’t mean jealousy can’t happen if someone else is sniffing around your sex partner.

Tanis fingers her. Now, as someone with a factory-installed vagina, I do not in any way find this sexy. If you’re not doing anything with them fingers, it does not feel good. Maybe this is personal preference, but I really hate it when it’s just like, *stab*

frodo ring

And here comes the ridiculous love talk: “Let go, cara mia. I am here to catch you.”

wave flowing into a hole in the sand

Now, in future Twisted Tree books, there’s some heavily romantic shit going on and I can see something slightly corny, if sweet and well-meaning, coming out of at least one character’s mouth. But we’ve had no indication that this is in Tanis’s character. He goes from rampant, aggressive, sneering misogynist to trying to be fucking Pablo Neruda or something.

This is just another bog standard romance sex scene with dueling tongues…

Princess Bride swordfight

but absolutely nothing remarkable. There’s no chemistry, no tension, no urgency. I’ve read very few sex scenes that are actually remarkable in this or any book, which is a shame. If you’re going to write in the romance genre, shouldn’t you go out of your way to write good sex? I can even excuse something that’s a little cliche if I enjoy the characters. Emotion matters more than anything in sex, either physical or written. And I give negative fucks about either of these characters.

Gillian has more sex dreams and sees “a glimpse of light-colored eyes. Whether blue, green, or gray, she couldn’t tell, nor would she fully remember.”

isn't that just convenient

She keeps waking up late in the day even though it doesn’t seem like she goes to bed that late. She must sleep a lot. Her room is wrecked and she looks/feels “like she’d done the entire Carpathian Olympic team.” Given the fact that she was asleep all night and Tanis was there presumably at least part of the night, this doesn’t disturb her at all??

Jump forward a few weeks, and “she hadn’t shared the gloomy news with the Vampires. No sense in alarming everyone.” ACTUALLY THAT WOULD MAKE TOTAL SENSE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. It’s like this goddamn book is going out of its way to contrive conflict by withholding pertinent information because otherwise there would be no conflict.

Gillian makes friends with the female vampire guard, Maeti, who becomes “a wonderful friend and confidante,” though we don’t actually see them interact other than a summary. I have to wonder if this is Gryphon tossing in a few paragraphs in order to pass the Bechdel Test, except it doesn’t even do that, because those paragraphs mention Maeti’s lost mate.

There’s some mildly interesting stuff about what the vampires are doing, going off to meet with allies and such. The problem is, Gillian continues to do absolutely fuck-all while everyone else is doing shit. In the context of this infodump, Aleksei explains how a vampire is made from four blood exchanges, but a vampire’s human lover can “[enjoy] aspects of longevity, fast healing, resistance to diseases, heightened senses and a telepathic connection with their lover” with less than four.


Oh, here’s Gillian doing something. She’s collecting intel from the vampires for the IPPA and the Marines about vampire society, etc.–with consent of the vampires, we’re assured. She also gains another therapy client, a werewolf named Pavel who’s developed an allergy to werewolf fur. This is actually kind of charming, which means it’s going to end up maimed and badly executed and probably just going to make me mad.

Pavel has some backstory about having a crush on a girl and her father being unhappy that he was a werewolf. The father sends dogs after him and he gets torn apart by them. Despite being an allegedly “dominant male,” Pavel is “useless for anything but an all-out fight.” If your allergy is so severe you can barely be around your own packmates, how the hell can you be dominant? For that matter, how can you be useful in a fight? When it’s cottonwood season and my allergies/asthma are working in tandem to make me hate life, all I can do is hide indoors and shower frequently. Hay fever does not a good fighter make.

doge face

The alpha werewolf, Cezar, thinks Pavel’s allergy has something to do with his trauma and wants Pavel to talk to Gillian, so we’re about to have another therapy session. Pavel is gorgeous, just like every other man in the book. They start their intake session…

…and the chapter ends.


Out of 15 chapters, I think two or three of them have actually ended in a way that makes sense. I have the Kindle version of this book, and it doesn’t have page numbers, but I have to wonder if they’re split by page number instead of by…actual sense.

A lot happened in this chapter, which is certainly more than I can say for previous chapters. It’s too bad none of it is actually a result of Gillian being proactive. The wolfponies get all up in Gillian’s business, Aleksei stops them, Gillian and Tanis fuck, the vampires do things while Gillian takes notes, someone else suggests that Gillian play therapist to Pavel. The only times Gillian takes initiative and does things herself, it’s something stupid and against all sense or reason. Then the vampires chastise her, which she would deserve if not for the nauseatingly paternalistic way they do it.

I just realized something. The image in my head of both Tanis and Aleksei is this guy:

tommy wiseau, the room


Chapter fourteen is here. Chapter sixteen coming soon.