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Bewildering Stories

Talia Gryphon, Key to Redemption

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

Key to Redemption
Author: Talia Gryphon
Publisher: Ace, 2008
Length: 298 pages
ISBN: 978-0-461-01644-0
I went into a Barnes & Noble last night with the intent of a last huzzah before a move back to brick-and-mortar free hinterlands. Now, I haven’t browsed a Barnes & Noble with serious intent to buy for years, since I mostly buy from Amazon, the History Book Club, and the Science Fiction Book Club. I wanted some brand new authors this time, and nothing beats seeing the shelves in front of you for that.

But egad. I stood there like one of those old fogies who spin the radio dial and panic when they don’t recognize any of the songs. Where did Elvis go? Help! Where did even Madonna go?! I scarcely recognized any of the authors before me. Was Rudy Rucker hidden in here somewhere? Or even Roger Zelazny? Heinlein? Help!

But I was determined. I stood reading back covers of books for so long the cute Barnes & Noble staffer in his studious glasses came over twice to ask if he could help (maybe I missed some opportunity there. I did love his glasses).

My difficulty soon became clear. It’s not that science fiction became real life and we conquered the stars. Romance conquered science fiction. If Arthur C. Clarke or Karl Schroeder were on those shelves, and I’m sure they must have been somewhere, they fought the battle in vain. Vampires, werewolves, paranormal detectives and other urban fantasies had crowded their token presence to the darker recesses.

If you can’t beat them, join them. In spite of my mounting panic attack, I grabbed off the shelf finally using the classic look-at-the-cover and made off with my booty (paid for, of course). When I got home I had Talia Gryphon’s Key to Redemption in my hand.

This book is the third of the series, but readers needn’t worry. The only reason you should go to an earlier book is if you don’t like the sex partner in this one. This one’s got the Phantom of the Opera, and if part-gargoyles turn you off, well, look elsewhere. Oops. I forgot the vampire lover in this one. But I assume there are vampire lovers in all of the books. They’re a standard.

The plot, for those who pay attention to plots while reading soft-core porn, concerns a (female) former marine. Gillian of the soldierly cussing and butt-slapping is now a sex therapist for supernaturals (Paramortals, here).

I’ll be looking closely at the pictures of any sex therapist I ever patronize, since I had no idea sex therapy works by the doctor having sex with the patient. Wow! (Of course, you visit therapists if you have a problem to fix, which may not include the simple, ascetic, romance-free lifestyle).

Gillian has quite a list of clients (does client sound too risqué? Or appropriate?), including a supernatural moose and a Frankenstein monster. Fortunately, though these two have sex with others, it’s not Gillian. Oh what a relief!

So Gillian focuses on the aforementioned Phantom of the Opera as her neediest patient. We all knew he had problems, of course. What we didn’t know was the Phantom is part-gargoyle. So during treatment sessions, Gillian fortunately doesn’t have to focus on the usual difficulty of, um, competence. Gargoyles are hard as rock, so they have no problem... um...

Still, she’s got her difficulties. She has to juggle her steady vampire lover, who starts out jealous and huffy, but by the middle of the book is a reformed New Age blood-sucker. He’s quite okay that the quickie in the alley was in the patient’s best interest. I was impressed. You just can’t find those understanding males in real life.

The other conflict in the story, such as it is, shows up late and is briskly dispatched by the ex-Marine and her male supporters. Jack the Ripper is another troubled soul Gillian offers to help. But as you might suspect, Jack really likes his sex life. He declines. Strong, wonderful, giving and compassionate as she is (the book keeps telling us so), there are some even Gillian can’t save through sexual healing.

OK, we all know what this book is. Sadly, I suspect it is representative of the romantic fantasy that now swamps the shelves of my local bookstore. I sure do miss the days when hard science fiction referred to science and not anatomy.

I wouldn’t mind the naughty stuff so much if the book were well-written. True, all the males in this book are fabulous hunks (most in this harem having been lovers of Gillian in previous books). Still, you’ll have a hard time forming a distinct picture of these sex-machines in your head. And the book has just enough token women in it besides the heroine to pretend other females exist in the species. Overall, it’s a Swiss cheese of clichés.

Since this book exists for titillation, I ought to rate the sex in it. I’ll give it bare passing grade. That brisk Marine attitude of the heroine is a bit of a distraction in the bedroom (and alley). There’s plenty of it, though, and you know, Gargoyles do have some interesting features...

But if you want hot stuff with really good writing, pick up Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Or try Charlaine Harris and her Southern Vampire series for more light-hearted fun (vote for Eric! Down with Bill, down with Mr. Clean!). For even thicker clichés than Gryphon’s book, but hotter sex, try Feehan’s Carpathian vampire series.

Goodness: go out and grab at random from the shelves of Barnes and Noble. You just can’t miss the sex scenes anymore.

Copyright © 2009 by Danielle L. Parker

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