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REVIEW: Key to Conspiracy by Talia Gryphon

Warning: This F review may contain language that is offensive to Sensitive Readers.

Key to ConspiracyDear Ms. Gryphon:

The cover quote for the book is by Laurell K Hamilton and it says “A unique idea in the paranormal genre.” I have to agree. It was unique. Unique like I’ve never read anything so bizarre in the paranormal genre before. Unique in that I’m sure that no one else is using the word “wereBear” because it rhymes with “careBear” thus rendering the shifter completely toothless. Unique in that it had every possible kind of mythical creature from vampires to the menagerie of shifters to Brownies, Fey, Elf (different than Fey), Pixies, dragons, Greek gods and goddesses, Ghosts, Demi-Fey, Slaugh, Goblins, Light Court, Dark Court, Twilight Court, Lord Dracula, Anibus, the Egyptian Vampire. Jack the Ripper and the Grael, that heals. Did the publisher employ a “No mythology left behind” policy and I missed it?

It’s so unique that it’s nearly impossible to read in its jumbling of words, plots, thoughts, and character arcs.

First, the menagerie of others is referred to as paramortal. Does that mean that everyone is part normal but just a higher class of mortals? Why then do you have immortals and mortals? This isn’t really answered or even addressed. Maybe I’m the only one that thinks the use of Paramortal to describe a bunch of non mortal beings is, well, wrong.

I was confused about the heroine, Gillian Key, who is a psychologist to the paramortals as well as a Marine Corp Special Forces Captain. How could she be an empath, someone who feels people’s emotions and treats their mental wounds, and also be the leader of a Special Forces team that kicks the shit out of people? I acknowledge that was part of her over reaching character arc, but I wasn’t sold that the dichotomy even made sense.

I’d accept this if Gillian Key was a sociopath ala Dexter but I don’t think that was how she was written. I admit that some of the scenes that dealt with her struggle between psychology and military were unintentionally comical. No. No! Psychologist! Think Gestalt thoughts! Bad Captain Key! Good Gillian and Bad Gillian were currently at odds in her psyche.” Think Gestalt thoughts? It was a good thing that Bad Gillian and Good Gillian were only mentioned in this one scene or else, it would have been Dexter. Or maybe that would have been a good thing.

Gillian’s not even a great leader (and empath) as evidenced by the scene where members of her Special Ops team make fun of the Brownies who have come to help them execute their mission.

“The Brownie unhooked a small horn made from the tooth of some woodland creature from his belt and blew it. . . . ‘Sorry but that sounds like a mouse far,” Jenna gasped between guffaws of laughter. Kimber giggled helplessly. Gillian palmed her face, hoping the Brownie wouldn’t pay attention to her blunt companions.”

Blunt? I probably would have used a different description. Like rude. Politically unwise. Assholic. (As an aside, Kimber and Jenna giggle ALOT for members of a Marine Special Forces team. They sounded like two teenagers at a mall laughing at a handicapped person.).

The writing also confused me. For example, “Being a real psychologist, Gillian had used her time wisely and resourcefully.” I don’t really understand what being a psychologist has to do with time management. Or “Her empathy, as much as she blocked, couldn’t help but leak through with the enormity of emotions emanating from the children in this terrible place, so her mind took over and shielded her.” Erm, how does that work? I.e., how is blocking different from shielding? How does empathy leak through anything? Wouldn’t the emotions leak through the shield? Or “Gillian’s empathy was ‘on’ all the time so she picked up subtleties from those around her.” But that wouldn’t include when she is blocking, right? Or shielding. Okay, am giving up on this one. Moving on.

The constant paragraph to paragraph switching of points of view was also a challenge as was the switching of stories. Yes, the story that is described on the back cover blurb (the rescue of children) takes over the first 50 pages and then we enter a new and completely different story which has nothing to do with the first 50 pages. Then after reading the second story involving ghosts and Jack the Ripper, we get a third story centered around a Loup Garou, which may or may not be the same as a Shifter, who doesn’t want to be a Loup Garou. In the end, we get some story involving Gillian’s lover and his conflict with Lord Dracula. 0_0!

Finally, I have to ask what is up with all the proper nouns? It was like the shift key was broken or something. “Aleksei reacted, his hands tightening on her as he began almost frantically plunging into her, driven to the edge of his control by her attempt at Vampire Sexuality.” Every paramortal being was capitalized. Ghosts. Faery. Brownie. Dark Elf. “‘There are Faeries in the Garden, Trocar!’ The Dark Elf had the grace to look sheepish.” and “Wherever he touched the lady Ghost. . .” and “‘Why, you are lovelier in your own form . . . than in that Fairy body.'” and “Boris turned to the shifted Moose. . .” I don’t think you could open the book to a page without being slapped with a Proper Noun.

Lord Almighty, this book was Bad. There are actually Some Books that are Bad but readable and you actually want to Read those Readably Bad Books just to see what is so wrong with them. This Book, however, simply falls in the Waste of Time Category. F.

Best regards,


This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. DS
    May 05, 2008 @ 05:02:41

    Oddly enough I didn’t recognize the name until I checked out the Amazon review. Wasn’t she an LKH bodyguard or something? The first book was horrendous also.

    This is at least a trilogy. There’s a 3rd book to come out in September. What was Ace thinking?

  2. Jayne
    May 05, 2008 @ 06:49:25

    and “Boris turned to the shifted Moose. . .”

    Were-moose? Are you kidding me? Does this take place in Canada? Are Rocky and Bullwinkle in it too?

    And what’s a slaugh? Just curious.

  3. Angela
    May 05, 2008 @ 06:58:33

    Isn’t she LKH’s homegirl?

    But the review gave me serious lulz. I may have to read the book.

  4. Aoife
    May 05, 2008 @ 07:26:24

    Someone is actually named Trocar? Eww.

  5. katiebabs
    May 05, 2008 @ 07:32:51

    The weremoose cracked me up!!
    I also felt Gryphon had to “input sex scene here”. It felt really out of place and the chemistry between Gillian and the Count was not that believable.

  6. Devon
    May 05, 2008 @ 07:34:19

    I decided against this one b/c I figured the LKH connection could not possibly be a good thing and I’m glad.

    Where to begin? There’s too much that would drive me nuts. Suffice it to say, “Paramortal” is indeed a ridiculous word.

    Great review.

  7. Leah
    May 05, 2008 @ 07:37:36

    Same exact thought about the trocar. Wonder if she used the word with its mortuary and surgical uses on purpose? Still icky.

  8. Ann Bruce
    May 05, 2008 @ 08:50:37

    Unique in that I'm sure that no one else is using the word “wereBear” because it rhymes with “careBear” thus rendering the shifter completely toothless.

    I couldn’t read past this line.

  9. BevQB
    May 05, 2008 @ 09:29:15

    As I understand it, Talia Gryphon is a friend of LKH’s PA, Darla Cook, and that LKH was, to some extent, Talia’s mentor. I really don’t know the extent of the mentoring. I know Talia was supposed to accompany LKH to the RT Con in Daytona but couldn’t at the last minute because of work related issues (her PA had an accident at the last minute and also couldn’t accompany her).

    I don’t believe LKH ever mentioned her first book when it came out, but I know Darla pimped it. I admit I was going to read it (Key to Conflict) out of curiosity- the blurb DOES sound interesting- but the reviews were so vicious that I didn’t waste my time. Although a few reviews DID say that it was worth reading because it was entertaining in its awfulness. I guess kind of like those old 50’s sci-fi movies are so bad they’re good.

  10. roslynholcomb
    May 05, 2008 @ 09:31:58

    No Paranormal Left Behind

    This seems to be the problem I run into every time I attempt to read a paranormal. When they go with more than just a few paranorms I get confused and lose track what all these weird beings are supposed to be.

  11. bam
    May 05, 2008 @ 09:59:38

    Yep… Mrs. G gave the first book of this series an 8 or something.

  12. Stephanie Z.
    May 05, 2008 @ 10:13:59

    Wow. Just — wow. I kind of want to read it just for the sheer awfulness now. I very much bet that wasn’t your point.

  13. Ag
    May 05, 2008 @ 10:29:32

    Oh my, Jane! I think I’d rather read your reviews. You had me rolling on the floor at careBear and toothless.

  14. Rebecca J
    May 05, 2008 @ 11:44:16

    Well, I’ll not waste my money or time on this one.

    Thanks for the lovely and extremely useful review.

  15. Vicky
    May 05, 2008 @ 11:50:53

    Oh dear, it sounds much like Key to Conflict which I hated. One of my big problems with that book was Gillian having an affair with the vampire she was seeing as a patient. Um, ethics anyone?

  16. Ann Bruce
    May 05, 2008 @ 13:02:01

    When they go with more than just a few paranorms I get confused and lose track what all these weird beings are supposed to be.

    Maybe someone can put together a paranormal reading guide or cheat sheet.

  17. (Jān)
    May 05, 2008 @ 13:05:50

    Were-moose? Are you kidding me? Does this take place in Canada? Are Rocky and Bullwinkle in it too?

    LOL! That’s what I was thinking. Maybe that explains why Natasha dressed like Morticia Adams.

    And how embarrassing would being a were-moose be in the paranormal community? I suppose it’s way better than being a were-flounder. Now that would be inconvenient.

  18. Jennifer Estep
    May 05, 2008 @ 13:28:04

    Um, I use the word “paramortal” in one of my urban fantasies as a catch-all phrase for everyone who has a power/ability — vampires, Druids, lycanthropes, etc. (No immortals or gods in my book).

    I thought it was a cool word, but given the reaction to the word here, I’m wondering if I should reconsider that …

    Speaking outside of the review, what makes a fantasy word/phrase work or not work for you as a reader? The reaction here has made me curious …

  19. Liviania
    May 05, 2008 @ 13:28:26

    That sounds like a hideous mix of paranormals. The number of different cultures and time periods that those creatures come from . . . I doubt she paid much attention to tradition.

    Weremoose. Now that’s something lacking in a long tradition. She could’ve made the poor guy a wereElk at least.

  20. Cassie
    May 05, 2008 @ 13:31:30

    I’ve been hestitating on picking up the second one (glutton for punishment and all since I didn’t even finish the first) but am so glad I haven’t spent the money. Thanks for the review, Jane. You’ve listed all the things that drive me crazy. I’m not even going to read it for the sheer awfulness. That would be a waste of my time. Time spent on better books and better authors.

  21. Jane
    May 05, 2008 @ 13:45:02

    Jennifer Estep – I guess my problem with paramortal is that the prefix “para” has the meaning of “alongside” but within the same genus. I.e., a paramilitary group is still a military group. Parapsychology is still some form of psychology only a fringe science. Paramortal to describe something not mortal at all seems strange to me.

    Other definitions:

    # Beside; near; alongside: paranucleus.
    # Beyond: parapsychology.
    # Incorrect; abnormal: paradipsia.
    # Similar to; resembling: paratyphoid.
    # Subsidiary; assistant:

  22. Bernita
    May 05, 2008 @ 14:17:29

    While the book sounds a total mess, the term “paramortal” sounds fine to me.

  23. Seressia
    May 05, 2008 @ 14:25:21


    I think “paramortal” would be fine if talking about humans with paranormal abilities, or mortals with paranormal abilities, to distinguish them from the immortals. This book seems to use it as a catch-all for anything/one with ability, mortal or not.

    Werebears and wereMooses? wow.

  24. Jennifer Estep
    May 05, 2008 @ 15:04:06

    Hmm … interesting discussion. In my book, everyone who has an ability is a “paramortal” and everyone who doesn’t is just a “mortal.” It doesn’t really have anything to do with their mortality, per se. (Although all my characters can die — and some of them do, quite horribly). The paramortals are just those that have a little something extra. Plus, some of them are human and some aren’t.

    And hey, I thought it sounded cooler than “parahuman.” :-)

  25. katiebabs
    May 05, 2008 @ 17:23:45

    I want a pet were-moose. I will call him George. :D

  26. Jia
    May 05, 2008 @ 18:57:48

    Thanks for taking the bullet, Jane. I just wasn’t able to make it past the first few pages of this.

  27. Another Path to Publishing « The Not-so-deep Thoughts
    May 05, 2008 @ 20:34:36

    […] this, this and […]

  28. Kristie(J)
    May 05, 2008 @ 20:58:11

    I thought I was reading good Gilligan and bad Gilligan and was thinking “Wha?” Were the Skipper and Marianne there too or something.
    And weremoose? Now that’s going to far I think. Would a group of them be called weremooses – that’s just silly!!

  29. Keishon
    May 05, 2008 @ 22:17:48

    The LKH cover quote would have been more than enough to make me put this book back down on the shelf where I found it.

  30. Bernita
    May 06, 2008 @ 06:23:02

    On re-reading the review and the list of mythic characters, I have to ask – does the story include a were-sink?

  31. an
    May 07, 2008 @ 00:33:16

    I just finished reading the first book of the series, and I was all excited that you reviewed this one, and didn’t read the post until I’d finished it and got all excited about throwing my two cents in about this book.

    Then I realized that I’d read the first book, and you’d reviewed the second.

    Then I realized that I’d been so enthusiastic about my response to the book that I’d done a blog-worthy post.

    So, I reviewed number one (Key of Whatever), at my blog. If you don’t care about spoilers, go see!

    ps. I know it is unbelievably tacky and uncouth to post a link to my blog. I’m sorry. I know. Tacky. I was just really excited about actually reading a book that’s been reviewed (it never happens. ever) shortly after it’s been reviewed.

  32. RKB
    Apr 18, 2009 @ 11:10:24

    I haven’t laughed this hard over a review in awhile. I was crying copious tears from laughing so hard. Thank you. :-)

  33. vera
    Apr 24, 2009 @ 19:31:55

    Honestly, I love this book and can’t seem to put it down.
    The sex scenes are very, very hot; the characters and their own little romances nice; and Jack the Ripper- need I say more? I love Gillian’s temper and her mouth :) and by that I mean the words that come out of it, not, well….. you know.
    Some people find it hard to keep up with all the terms and story lines, and, very obviously, that’s because you most likely a) don’t like the book enough to even try to keep up, or b) you just don’t have the mental capability to keep up; either way, it’s fine, just know that I love this book so so so so so so so much, and is so so so so so so on my favs list. Danke und chao.

  34. Chris
    Sep 08, 2009 @ 04:33:55


    I read the first one, here is what I thought about it.

    I liked some of this, some of it I did not. There were little things that bothered me. One, I felt like I needed a dictionary to sypher all of the five dollar words.
    Two, and as simple as this is, she should’ve researched a little better.
    I am veteran, I served in the USMC (that is why I read the book, she was a Marine, go kick butt tough chick!). Marines do not EVER refer to themselves as soldiers; soldiers are Army, Maries are Marines. I would get mad whenever I read the character refer to herself as a “Soldier.” Three, I was really into it, and then my interest tapered off, I guess I could have ADD, but other authors rarely do that. I am STILL reading this book, and fighting to figure out what happens at the end. I bought the other (this review) before I finished this one and got bored, or my short attention span if you want to call it that :)

    I have read all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels and I played online games for quite awhile, so the lingo does not bother me much- I understood the Were(animal), fae, ect.

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