The Tainted Cup
January 23, 2024

Book Review

The Tainted Cup

reviewed by Pam Guynn

The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett blends fantasy with a mystery. When a high Imperial officer is found dead in his home in Daretana, investigator Ana Dolabra is called in to determine how this happened and who killed him. It’s not every day a tree erupts from a body even in an empire where contagions are plentiful and the blood of Leviathans corrupts the land. Was this an accidental contagion or was Commander Taqtasa Blas assassinated?

Ana is assisted by her new apprentice assistant, Dinios Kol, an engraver magically altered to possess a perfect memory. However, the case is even bigger that the death of one officer. The safety of the Empire is at stake.

Ana is brilliant, but eccentric, easily bored, and often incites outrage in others. She insists on wearing a blindfold most of the time and doesn’t often leave her home. She also actively seeks knowledge in between cases, disregards politeness, and makes unusual but often accurate conclusions. Dinios has secrets, has a dull demeanor at times, doesn’t come across as friendly, and is somewhat baffled by Ana’s actions and deductions. Their interactions enlivened the story. However, don’t be fooled by your initial opinion of him. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but they are introduced gradually and that helped. A list of ranks is provided, but a character list would have also helped.

The story immediately grabbed my attention with a riveting mystery and quirky characters. One question came to mind quickly. If Ana is such a brilliant investigator, why was she assigned to the small community of Daretana? The plot is complex, twisty, and multi-layered. The world-building is well-developed as readers learn more about it throughout the novel. While there are a few slow spots, I was rewarded by an enjoyable read as I persevered through them. I also wanted a little more suspense throughout the book. The ending of the book includes the highest level of action in the book and then sets the stage for book two. What will their next case entail?

 Overall, this engrossing fantasy mystery has good characterization, even with a main character that wasn’t always likeable, and great world-building. The mix of mind and physical enhancements combined with sea monsters, sword fighting, contagions, and mysteries in this fantasy world made for an entertaining and fun read. Themes include wealth, power, greed, murder, secrets, revenge, betrayal, friendship, bureaucracy, and much more. Readers who enjoy a murder investigation set in a fantasy world will likely enjoy this novel. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey and Robert Jackson Bennett provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. Publication date is currently set for February 06, 2024.

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