Gillian Key, the Hateread: Key to Conspiracy, Chapter 1

Well, here we are again. Before we even get started, I just want to point out the lolz on the cover:

key to conflict cover

You know when someone is yammering at you, but you really have to poop and you just sighted the bathroom, and you’re about to make a break for it? She looks like she’s about to shoot a motherfucker who’s between her and the toilet. And despite the intent expression, the eyes are completely dead and empty. I’d fault the artist here, but it’s so fitting for Gillian that I want to stand up and clap. Let’s not forget about the conspicuous quote from Talia Gryphon’s benefactor, too. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Key to Conflict cover quote

Even LKH is like,

Having ragged on the cover, though, I have to say that the first sentence is a substantial improvement over the last one:

The first sign of trouble came on the huge C-130 cargo transport plane.

It’s not stellar, but it establishes setting and tone, and the fact that there’s something militaryish going on. And it doesn’t say anything eye-rolling about G–

Oh wait. Next sentence.

It had been commissioned to carry Gillian Key, newly recalled United States Marine Corps Captain, Special Forces field operative, and clinical Paramortal psychologist, and her handpicked Re-Con Team from London to Northern Russia on a historic mission.

you're not that cute

Nice…plot info-dump? Having just written the second book in my series, I can vouch for the difficulty of trying to (re-)establish plot and character at the beginning of the second book, but you don’t toss it out like a big floppy fish in Pike Place Market. This one sentence just encapsulates the absolutely graceless way these books are written.

grammar time

What the fuck is with the capitalization in these books? “Paramortal” and “Re-Con Team” are not, as far as I can tell, proper nouns, meaning they aren’t the name of a specific thing. She also capitalizes species (Human, Vampire, Ghost) for no sensible reason. And let’s talk about the weird hyphen in the middle of “Re-Con.” “Recon” is short for “reconnaissance.” Unless you’re trying to con someone again (like, I don’t know, conning them into buying the second book), “re-con” makes absolutely no fucking sense.

So we’re at the third sentence now, which explains why this mission is “historic”: “because it was a very public but very necessary operation intended to bring positive public opinion to the Paramortal community at large.”

wait what

Now, I’m pretty sure Special Forces operations are not meant to be public, for one. Two, how the fuck is this supposed to bring positive public opinion to paramortal people (I cannot in good conscience capitalize that shit)? Why is that even needed? ALREADY I DO NOT UNDERSTAND

But I think I can be forgiven for not understanding, given that this book actually started in the last 2% of the last book.

Their actual assignment consisted of rescuing indigent, orphaned children from child traffickers after a major Russian earthquake.

I actually don’t hate this idea. A natural disaster can completely collapse every sociopolitical structure in the affected area, and opportunistic bad guys could roll in and snatch these kids. It seems like a decent idea for a stand-alone novel, or one that isn’t so intimately connected with the “plot” of the last one. But WHAT THE FUCK DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH DRACULA?! In the book, right up to the end, Dracula was lurking around, and in the last three chapters, Jack the Ripper popped up to do nothing in particular but kill some “tranny hookers.” (PS, I feel it necessary to point out that those were not my words.) So presumably, Big Bads are still out there, and they’re going to do something that is, on its face, completely unrelated.

What the fuck ever.

So there’s a journalist/documentary crew along for the ride. Two things immediately jump to mind:


Again, this is a Special Forces operation. Even if we ignore the fact that Gillian’s cover has been blown like Ron Jeremy, Why the fuck would they agree to send in a documentary crew to something sensitive enough to warrant special forces?

Second, a Mass Effect reference:

Gillian is furious about this. Wow, am I actually starting the book agreeing with her? The book is sure to remind us that she is “diminutive,” “curvy,” “blonde,” and a “little fireball” as she tells her commanding officer, Daedelus Aristophenes (who the narrative calls “Daed”) she’s not having any of it. He is an absolute patronizing fuckwad and I hate him instantly, which gives me a strong suspicion that Gillian is going to end up fucking him. She actually has a good line here:

“I am about to be very insubordinate and on camera, sir.”

She then turns to tongue-lash the documentary crew, and they are very intimidated indeed, as there are “gasps, gulps, and [pale] faces” as she speaks. She basically threatens to kill any of them for taking pictures of the team or the rescued kids. “I will consider it a hostile action with an intent to thwart these special ops soldiers in the performance of their duties.” That…doesn’t actually sound so unreasonable? I could hope for some conflict between the necessity of keeping sensitive military information safe and the necessity of accountability to the Fourth/Fifth Estate, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

So we’re re-introduced to more characters and more plot, including “Jenna Blaisedemolition guru,” who we met in either the last chapter or the second-to-last in Key to Conflict, because why not add team members at the very end of a book?

why the fuck not

So they’re off to Russia. We’re assured again that Gillian has “natural empathy, [which] would be a help in the process of liberating any children they found.” Ew. The verb liberating gives me creepy imperialistic vibes. We’re also given a helpful definition of Stockholm syndrome that sounds like it was ripped directly from a Psychology 101 textbook. We’re informed that apparently Gillian can spot a lie, which is news to me after an entire book of occasionally hearing about her empathy.

Aleksei calls her up on the brain phone with his amazeballs telepathy, despite the fact that, again, he’s never demonstrated an ability to communicate with her that way before. Oh, apparently it’s “a side effect of him receiving her blood through the fang nick during the last kiss they shared.” This is a perfect example of the grab-ass world building in this series. Why does she just assume that’s the cause? Why isn’t she surprised? There are so many ways this could have been explained more effectively.

Anyway, Aleksei gives her a brain-hug, and she falls asleep.

Gillian, the “little blond powerhouse,” has the bright idea to pose as one of the documentary crew, which I have to give her credit for, though I wonder why nobody (like, I dunno, Daedelus) thought of this idea in the first place.

There’s some half-decent description of the earthquake aftermath, though it’s a little melodramatic. The earthquake is supposed to have knocked over trees and left “gashes in the countryside…like open wounds.”

Okay, so I’ve done some research about earthquakes for a book, so bear with me here. I feel like it’s reasonable to point out that the damage from earthquakes doesn’t actually come from the shaking itself. The ground doesn’t split open to the extent I think she means here; ground fissures can happen, but normally as a result of landslides and not the earthquake itself. Landslides, tsunamis, and building collapses kill. Earthquakes don’t. I mean, I hate to burst her description bubble, but there are many other ways to create drama in the description of a natural disaster than to use Hollywood as a source. It annoys the fuck out of me when authors can’t be bothered to do some basic research. Finding that one article took me approximately thirty seconds.

The narrative does a decent job explaining the effects of the situation on the crew…for about half a second. Then it switches back to insisting that Gillian is Strong and Capable and She Can Handle This and She’s the Greatest Leader and Therapist Ever.

show don't tell

She actually has a moment of self-reflection in which she realizes she’s been struggling out of her element for a while and she’s glad to be back in it. “The person inside her who she’d been trying to come to terms with embraced it and reminded her that she was still herself despite everything.”


No, I have no idea what “it” is, either. Every time I feel like there’s something decent going on in these books, Gryphon cockblocks me with something poorly and awkwardly written.

We stop to describe the wardrobe of every single member of the team, and then Daedelus briefs them on the “pedophile ring.” Wait. A pedophile is someone who desires sex with children. That is not the same thing as human trafficking. The kids might be going into the sex trade, yes, but they could also be used as slave labor or whatever.

I know, I know.

keep calm and don't expect too much

So the team intelligently spreads out to do “re-con” by networking with the magistrate and the townspeople and paranormal folks etc. etc. We don’t actually get to see any of that because it would be interesting, so we’re just told what they found: that “children were being intentionally stolen, most likely for nefarious purposes.”


you don't say

While Daedelus is talking, Kimber asks Gillian what he is, and she responds, “Shifter of some kind, he’s never told me and I never asked.” What the fuck? You don’t know what kind of supernatural your commanding officer is? As familiar as she is with him, you’d think you’d know something that basic. Our Gillian, such a fine example of observation powers.

She then wonders why Aleksei can be in her mind when Tanis couldn’t, even though Tanis also had some of her blood. Aleksei info-dumps that he’s got superpowerz now, “dolcezza.” God, the fucking Italian words. Gillian asks Trocar if it’s possible to put up a “nullification field” that “might keep a Master Vampire from knowing he was a Master Vampire.” Trocar says yes, and they debate who could do such a thing. Aleksei requests that she come back soon blah blah Osiris gather information blah.

Halfway interesting, but I’m pretty sure we’re in the middle of a meeting still. Gillian tells everyone to “lock and load,” and they go out and do more shit. We’re reminded that Gillian is “a real psychologist,” so she hangs around helping people, because surely the Red Cross, who is also there, has absolutely no real psychologists on staff to help traumatized citizens. I get that she wants to help, but doesn’t she have military shit to do?

Gillian and Daedelus–who is still called “Daed,” because apparently typing the other four other letters gets tiresome–and an aid worker think someone in authority is helping the child traffickers steal kids, and there’s rumors that “a rogue Shifter [is] spearheading the operation.” I really wonder how they came to this conclusion so quickly. I don’t remember Daedelus saying much about supernatural people being involved in the whole mess. I really wish this realization hadn’t come about in the first chapter, too. It takes the wind out of the plot sails, and already there was more wind in those sails in the first 7% of this book than there was in the whole first book.

Gillian gripes that this is real complicated and even worse than anticipated and it’s hard “This has FUBAR written all over it.


Jesus fuck, for someone who’s supposed to be oh-so-competent and handling shit oh-so-well, she sure does throw her hands up quick.

Trocar shows up with a bunch of brownies (like the fairy kind) who want to help. Jenna makes fun of them like she’s a seven-year-old with no home training and not a goddamn special forces operative, and Kimber giggles too. Shame on you, Kimber. I kinda liked you.

So Ignacious, the brownie leader, summons an army of brownies. Gillian is “so diplomatic if made everyone’s teeth hurt.” Apparently the team is used to being assholes to get their way and just aren’t used to their dickwad leader being reasonable. They can be forgiven, since I’m kind of shocked at the 180 character change, too.

The brownies wander off, and Trocar tells Gillian Luis is acting weird, so don’t be alone with him. He and Gillian flirt in a completely inappropriate way for a commanding officer and her soldier. Daedelus quite reasonably tells them to stop, and Gillian returns back to her old self by being rude and telling him to “stuff it.”

Chapter ends.

I feel like Gryphon has stepped up her game here, just a little bit. There’s more potential in this book, and while I’m certain I’m going to be woefully disappointed, at least there’s some effort here. Of course, I’m saying that now. We’ll see how I feel in a few chapters.

PS, that was 9% of the book.


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