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A big neon warning sign: the author spends the first few chapters insisting that sex-for-pay is NOT prostitution, unless you're a pathetic junkie street hooker.

And unfortunately Talia Gryphon's latest opus goes downhill after that, fast. Her third novel "Key To Redemption" is a smoking, dribbling morass devoted entirely to the world's worst therapy provided by the world's worst therapist, with the occasional pervert vampire. And of course, as much utterly gratuitous sex as possible, with as little possible consent.

Gillian Key receives the news that she's going to have a couple new patients -- Frankenstein's monster, and the Phantom of the Opera (who, of course, is a hot emo guy in tights). Much to Aleksei's disgust, Gillian has to cure him of all his issues by having sex with him -- because according to Gryphon, that is what all licensed sex therapists do.

Men, please note -- if you don't like and support your new girlfriend shagging a strange man for money, then you are a nasty chauvinist and everyone will hate you.

Enraged by Alexsei's accurate description of her as a "courtesan," Gillian stomps off to tend to the Hot Phantom, a Sidhe/Gargoyle named Perrin who is suicidally depressed. Of course, Gillian is so awesome and loving he suddenly learns to trust and love and have wild sex, and even unleashes a sex-filled song through Castle Rachlav -- causing a mass orgy of ridiculous proportions.

At this point, Gryphon realizes that maybe "Gillian's magic-vagina therapy" isn't all a plot needs. So suddenly eviscerated corpses turn up nearby -- turns out dear ol' Jack the Ripper is STILL stalking Gillian, all the way in Transylvania. When one of Gillian's giggly disposable friends is kidnapped by him, she has no choice but to face him.

The entire point of "Key To Redemption" is apparently to show that there's no one more loving and amazing than Gillian, and that she alone can cure any psychological problem. Gryphon tosses in a few throwaway mentions of Dracula killing people and the whole Jack the Ripper subplot, but the whole thing is finished in a few pages and Jack is kind of a wimp. After that, it's back to Hot Lust-Inducing Vampires.

This would be a disastrous plot for the best of writers, but in Gryphon's hands it becomes uglier than Frankenstein's monster. Way too many descriptions of erections and sexy clothes, as well as truly ghastly dialogue("The vampire's visage and touch have left you ripe for the picking"), and a teen-girl mentality towards attractive men ("yummy" and "squee" are two of the more annoying words used).

Even worse: the sex. The book feverishly inserts as much gratuitous sex as possible, but with as little consent as possible. And the sex is anything but erotic -- whoops, fairy sex-magic orgy alert! Jack the Ripper masturbating! Gillian suddenly becomes a virgin again! And I could have lived the rest of my life without hearing about the Phantom of the Opera being given oral sex lectures.

Speaking of which, it's a bit nauseating how "Key To Redemption" brutally rapes the dying body of "Phantom of the Opera." Apparently the Phantom is a poor shy virginal emoboy, and Christine was really a shallow, stupid, vindictive little slut, who cannot even compare to the magnificence of Gillian. Leroux is spinning in his grave.

This is especially true because Gillian is anything but magnificent. She's brittle, hypocritical, whiny, abusive to all around her, and shows her professionalism by practically piddling herself with lust. All the other characters either worship her, or are desperately in love/lust with her. The only vaguely realistic one is Aleksei, but eventually he decides that having his girlfriend boink various other men while he stays faithful and attentive isn't so bad.

Despite a throwaway plot about a supposedly-powerful bad guy, Talia Gryphon seems more interested in trying to convince readers that her Mary Sue is a hotter Mother Theresa. This isn't a train-wreck -- this is the trainyard blowing up.
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