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Review: The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

“Oh, you’ve always got to smile a little, Din… Even during, you know, the abysmally fucking awful times.”

The Tainted Cup

As the great Alfred Hitchcock once said, “One must never set up a murder. They must unfold naturally, as in life.” I believe the same applies to great reads. They are not meticulously planned conquests of our “to be read” piles, but rather serendipitous discoveries. A captivating cover or an intriguing blurb sparks our curiosity, leading us to delve into its pages. This is exactly what happened to me when I decided to pick up “The Tainted Cup” by Robert Jackson Bennett.

Seeing as this was my first time reading anything by Bennett, and I selected The Tainted Cup on Netgalley based solely on the cover, I really didn’t know what to expect. If I am being completely honest, I went in expecting an epic fantasy series, given my familiarity with his Foundryside series; instead, I found myself with a murder mystery that was as fun to read as it is to play a good old game of Clue, with friends.

The story hinges on two main characters with the first being Ana Dolabra, a veteran investigator known for her sharp wit and biting sarcasm that could make even the gruffest sailors blush. Combine that with her distinct quirks, and readers will quickly fall in love with her character. 

I have never liked the company of too many people, Din. I have always preferred patterns and the consumption of information to socializing. I have preferred and will always prefer staying in my residence and will avoid stimulation at all costs. This is simply who I am.

Joining Ana is her new assistant, Dinios Kol. Din possesses a remarkable ability known as “engraving.” This magical talent allows him to combine scents with memories, granting him the power to relive any experience at will.

In Bennett’s world, the Empire, financial status starkly determines your living situation, mirroring our own. The closer you live to the sea walls, the poorer you are, and the higher your risk of being ravaged by leviathan attacks during the dreaded wet season.

Though the threat of leviathan attacks loomed throughout the story, it wasn’t what truly captivated me. As a character-driven reader (you likely noticed from my past reviews), I was enthralled by how each character we met unfolded like an onion. Layer by layer, their true motivations and roles in the larger narrative were revealed.

Beyond the outstanding character development, Bennett unleashes a truly unique magic system inspired by the intricate wonders of botany. Whether he has a green thumb in reality or not, the way he seamlessly integrates plant life into the narrative’s core was fascinating.

The Tainted Cup, a murder mystery teeming with lies, political entanglements, vendettas, and good old-fashioned greed, hooked me from start to finish. I can’t wait to devour book two of the Shadow of the Leviathan Series! I’m eager to see what adventures await Ana and Din in the Empire.

 

Disclaimer: ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest and fair review

Robert Jackson Bennett

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