Cover Image: The Tainted Cup

The Tainted Cup

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Member Reviews

When was the last time I’ve read a follow-the-clues mystery? I’m confident that this is kind of a first. I’ve read mysteries, I’ve read thrillers, but there is something about a Sherlock Holmes type mystery I have never experienced, but fully enjoyed. AND it’s a fantasy too? My head was spinning!

The Tainted Cup had a slow start for me and I found myself constantly putting the book down after a few pages. By the time I hit about 35%, the story took off and the real action started! I really liked the militaristic positions within their society, especially the engravers! What an idea! I loved that scent helped with triggering memories and how they remembered EVERYTHING. Honestly that’s what’s going to bring me back for the next one.

I also liked seeing the chemistry between Strovi and Din. The ending was so cute and I hope we get to continue following their relationship.

And Ana! What a hilarious firecracker!! She was witty, quirky, and had no filter. She loved to play with people (not in a mean way) and watch them squirm because of her blunt truths and observation. What a mysterious and interesting character! Can’t wait for that to be explored. While Ana is sharp, Din was soft but meticulous and honorable. His naivety was charming and his heart and mind bold. He was a fun character to follow.

I did give it 3.5 because I wasn’t IN LOVE with the story. It was a good read, but I couldn’t fully grasp the story. It felt like something was missing for me and had a bit more plot holes than I liked. But I will be back for the sequel. Maybe then, things will be explained!

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I'm a huge fan of Bennett's Founders Trilogy, so I was excited to hear that he's starting a new series.

I really enjoyed the "murder mystery in a high fantasy setting" premise of this story. I liked the characters, and the mystery kept me guessing. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

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Thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for the early read. This book was amazing and I can't wait to read this series. Robert Jackson Bennett delivers again with the Fantasy/Mystery series.

I highly recommend that you check this out....4.5/5 (rounded to 5)

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"The Tainted Cup" by Robert Jackson Bennett had the potential to be an interesting blend of mystery and fantasy, but unfortunately, it fell short of my expectations. While the premise of the story seemed promising, with a unique world where humans undergo genetic alterations to protect the realm, the execution left much to be desired.

From the outset, I struggled with the book. The slow pacing and convoluted world-building made it difficult to immerse myself in the story. Instead of being drawn into the plot, I found myself constantly trying to decipher the intricacies of the world and the unfamiliar language, which only served to detract from my enjoyment of the narrative.

Despite my initial reservations, I continued reading, hoping that the story would improve. While the final third did see some improvement in pace and intrigue, it wasn't enough to fully redeem my reading experience. By that point, I found myself only moderately invested in the central mystery.

Ultimately, "The Tainted Cup" left me underwhelmed. While it may appeal to readers who are willing to invest time in deciphering complex world-building, for me, the slow start and lackluster execution make it unlikely that I'll continue with the series.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Ballantine for an advanced e-reader copy of this book.

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I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. Already dying for the sequel. Loved the relationship between Dolabra and Kol and can’t wait to learn more about her in future books. Amazing world building and want to learn more about inner ring.

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I’d heard so many positive things about previous RJB books, and this is my first of their works. But I have to say, everything I’d heard stands true even for this book. The Tainted Cup felt so original and captivating and I never wanted to put it down and even now, I’m wishing there were more for me to continue. I eagerly await the sequels.

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This book really surprised me. I was invited to read and then I started hearing about it everywhere. I don’t read a lot in this genre but it was interesting and at times I couldn’t help but laugh at Ana’s antics and some of the things she shared. I’m interested in learning more about the world - I feel like there was a lot said but not explained in this book - and I’m curious to see how the characters interact in the next book!

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Questioning all my life choices due to the fact that I was skeptical about this book based on the synopsis, but then promptly fell in love in the first 50 pages. Is "Fantasy Mystery" my new genre obsession? Why yes, I think it is. Thank you, Robert Jackson Bennett.

Immediately, the worldbuilding had me in awe. You know Brandon Sanderson's books and how they build this incredibly complex world that surely has to be real because of the amount of detail and backstory? Same vibes here. Between the fernpaper walls, the reagents keys to allow passage through the plants guarding a home, and the leviathans whose blood provide special superhuman abilities, I was fully there in the Empire.

BUT, even better - the writing was effortless. There was no initial moment of "okay, gotta slog through this at the beginning and it will all make sense later." From the get-go, I understood everything I needed to and was at home in this new world. I just cannot explain to you how much I loved this combination of accessible but still complex worldbuilding!

My one teeny tiny, itty bitty irk with the worldbuilding was the use of modern cursing. Made-up, in-world cursing would have sealed. the. deal! for me here. Instead, the f-word was frequently present.

Our narrator, Din, was quite externally emotionless. I think I would have liked more peeks into his mind and what emotions lay underneath the surface, but I also think his personality really worked as our narrator. We were allowed to focus on the mystery and take in all the details without fighting off Din's emotional torrent. But, just a warning to those who want deep emotional connection to their characters - you don't necessarily get that here.

Ana, however, was a hoot. Did I know what was going on in her head half of the time? Pshaaa, no - but did anyone? To create one of those "mad scientist" type characters, you must be careful to make them believable but still retain their air of unattainable skill. Ana was a perfect mix for me - she had some human moments (and Din was able to follow her thoughts sometimes), but she still had that implausible "otherness" that allowed her to be a genius. She was a top character for me!

As for the plot, I was hooked. Just utterly, thoroughly hooked. How I *love* a good mystery with tension and surprises, and give it to me in a fantasy world?! Perfection.

The ending (ie, the resolution of the murder mystery) fell right into the careful balance of believable, adequately scaled, and conclusive without being too neatly aligned. I'm excited to see where Ana and Din go next, because I am feeling the inklings of an underlying thread that may come out more in further works.

Wow! Who knew book two of the Shadow of the Leviathan series would become highly anticipated for me? Be sure to give this one a try if you like genre-bending stories, accessible fantasy, and plant-based worldbuilding!

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I am not typically a fantasy book reader and this book was a bit daunting for me to read. I struggled at first to make sense of all of the characters and the roles they were playing in the book. I also felt like this book was a lot longer than it really was and at times I struggled to maintain focus and keep track of all of the characters. By the last 100 pages I was very invested in the book and loved the way the ending tied everything together. Despite the fact that I thought I would DNF this book at first I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

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As far as murders go, making a tree spontaneously grow out of someone killing them instantly is pretty unique. This is exactly what happens to an Imperial officer as the inciting event in this mystery.

Ana Dolabra along with her assistant Dinios Kol are assigned to investigate. Din acts as Ana's eyes and ears as he has been modified as an engraver to have a perfect memory. Ana seldom leaves home, so the accuracy of Din's evidence gathered and interviews are of utmost importance. In addition to seldom leaving her home, Ana wears a blindfold most of the time and swears like a sailor. The swearing somewhat scandalizes Din, but Ana can get away with a lot because of how well her mind works while solving a case.

I loved both Ana and Din.They work so well together. We get to know Din a little more though since the story is told through his eyes.

The world building is excellent. The Empire reminds me a little of a medieval walled city in structure. The further away from the wall you get, the more affluent you are. And in this case, the further away from the wall you get, the safer you are from the leviathans who try and breach the wall. So in addition to working on solving the mystery, Ana and Din must be aware of the dangers lurking.

Overall this is a very well written book. I gave it 5 stars out of 5. It has a fascinating mystery, excellent world building, and interesting characters. And as it is book one in a series, I look forward to reading more about Ana and Din. I'd recommend this book to people who enjoy a good fantasy as well as those who enjoy a good mystery in a fantasy setting.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. This did not affect my opinion.

The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett was published February 6th, 2024 by Del Rey. It is book one in the Shadow of the Leviathan series.

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A plantpunk murder mystery.... wait, what??

OK, so I hadn't heard of plantpunk or florapunk before this book, but it totally fits! The mystery is incredibly well constructed and original, and the relationship between Watson-like newbie Din and his Sherlock-boss Ana is perfect! Ana fascinated me, with her incredible mind and her extreme sensory sensitivity and utter disregard for social norms- she might be one of my favourite characters of all time now! This is planned to be a trilogy, and it just jumped to the top of my most-wanted sequels (and The Tainted Cup JUST published! Aaargh!)

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Ana Dolabra is assigned to investigate the death of a high imperial officer whose death would be considered quite strange. She is known for her brilliance in solving cases that most would find impossible to solve. Joining her in the search is her new assistant Dinios who has been magically altered in a way that helps his new boss Ana. The two soon think they know who the killer is now they must bring to light the scheme he has so masterfully come up with. Follow along and see if they can bring the killer to light and keep others from ending up dead.

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Actual rating 3.5, rounded up for the lovely cover

I struggled with this book A LOT. Fantasy isn't a usual genre for me; I get lost in the world building and this was no exception unfortunately. The description really drew me in (death by invasive tree, fantastical Holmes and Watson), but in the end, my inability to follow made this more of a trudge than an enjoyment. No blame on the author, he is an excellent writer and his descriptions are stellar, but the fact is that I'm never gonna be comfortable in fantasy worlds. For those who are, I think you'll love this book, but for me, it's back to standard Earth.

My thanks to Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine/Del Rey, the author and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest opinion.

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“So … you have only worked for an Iudex Investigator for four months, sir?”
“What’s the point of this, Princeps?” I asked, irritated.
I could see the smirk playing at the edges of Otirios’s mouth again. “Well, sir,” he said. “Of all the death cases to be your first, I wouldn’t much like it being this one.”

In the last 2 years, I have gone through Robert Jackson Bennetts first two trilogies. While not related, they are stories that feel similar and show growth and refinement in his storytelling. I LOVED them both and have recommended those books regularly since then. So when I heard the description of this book, I was a bit nervous as it felt like a different lane for him to write in (and admittedly, I'm not much of a mustery reader).

RJB's world building is on full display here. The first few chapters feel like a cultural immersion that doesn't feel overwhelming or rely on front heavy dumps of information. As you read on, the detail and nuance in the world feels so complex. There is a subtleish magic system that feels seamless in the world and feels like there is a potential for a major escalation in power. Especially because it feels like we just barely touched the surface of understanding some of the powerful entities in this world. I feel like both of his 2nd novels had major escalations in scale and power, and I am hoping for that as well!

Whatakes makes this book work so well for me is such a solid cast of characters. You could feel the relationship between characters grow and evolve in ways that highlight RJB's talents! I am excited to see where this goes and what hijinks Din and Ana will end up in!

Big thank you to Random House and Del Rev for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The nitty-gritty: Readers looking for the perfect fantasy/mystery will love Robert Jackson Bennett's immersive world building and lively characters.

I always love it when the first book in a new series works, and I had a blast with The Tainted Cup. Robert Jackson Bennett is a master at creating unique fantasy worlds, and I loved the intriguing mix of old school magic, gothic elements and even cosmic horror. The main focus of this book, though, is a complex murder mystery, patterned after the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which made this quite a page turner, despite a rather slow pace.

And because it’s a murder mystery, I won’t be going too deep into the plot, in order to avoid spoilers. The story is told from the point of view of Signum Dinios Kol (“Din”), an assistant investigator working under the mysterious but brilliant Immunis Anagosa Dolabra (“Ana”). Din and Ana have just been assigned to investigate the death of Commander Taqtasa Blas, an Engineer. The death is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, Blas’s body was found on the Haza estate, one of the wealthiest families in the Empire, although none of the Haza family are at home. Second, the manner of his death is shocking: a huge tree appears to have grown from inside his body, piercing him to death.

As the two begin questioning the servants at the estate, Ana soon realizes that Blas was murdered, and that his murder is only the tip of the iceberg. Each revelation leads to another mystery, and a dangerous conspiracy is uncovered, putting the Empire’s sea walls at risk. The wet season is coming, when the leviathans begin their steady crawl towards shore, and with only the immense sea walls to protect the Imperial Iyalets, everyone is in terrible danger.

The reader is immediately immersed in Bennett’s fantastical world, where people are able to get magical augmentations that provide extra abilities. For example, Din is an engraver, and he’s able to remember everything he sees and hears, which is perfect for recording every little detail at a crime scene, or remembering a suspect’s statement word for word. Later he can recall this information by connecting the memories to a particular scent, although he must carry around a satchel full of vials so that he can smell the right scent when he needs it—which seems a bit cumbersome. Still, this ability makes him extremely valuable to Ana, who is the brains behind the operation, using Din’s memories to solve murders.

Then there’s the setting. The Empire is located near the ocean, and life revolves around surviving the wet season and the possibility that the giant creatures who live in the sea are going to try to breach the sea walls set in place by the Engineers. This is a constant threat, and many citizens are needed to combat the leviathans, including the Legion, whose job it is to kill the creatures if they manage to breach the wall. My only regret is that we didn’t get more leviathan action, but hopefully in future books they will take on a bigger role. Here they are mostly in the background, a terrible threat that’s mostly observed from afar.

I also loved the way nature is incorporated into the world building. Giant mushrooms are used as a sort of air filtration system in homes, and lanterns provide light from glow worms (it’s much more complex than that, but that’s the short version). Even walls are built from a product called fernpaper, a lightweight and strong plant material that holds up to the quakes caused by the leviathans during the wet season. These details are all very carefully thought out and incorporated naturally into the story, something Robert Jackson Bennett is so good at. They also provide clues to the mystery Ana and Din are trying to solve, so they aren’t just window dressing but critical to the story.

But as much as I loved the world, it was the characters who stole my heart. Ana and Din fill in for Holmes and Watson (even readers who haven’t read the Sherlock Holmes books will get it) and the author nails the vibe. Din is twenty and Ana is in her 50s, but the two work perfectly in sync with each other. Both characters have a wry sense of humor at times, despite the heavy subject matter of the murders (not to mention the life threatening leviathans!). Ana especially was hysterically funny, and this humor gave the story an overall lighter tone than some of Bennett’s other books.

And I can’t say enough about Ana’s character, who is now one of my all time favorites. Ana is an eccentric, almost introverted woman who is able to make the biggest of intuitive leaps to solve crimes. She wears a blindfold most of the time in order to keep distractions out of her thought process, and yet she still seems to know everything that’s going on around her. She’s always one step ahead of everyone else and gleefully makes sure they know it. By the end of the story there is still a lot we don’t know about Ana, but hopefully some of her secrets will be revealed in future books.

I loved the way things wrapped up at the end, and it appears that Ana and Din will go on to solve more murders in the future. Readers who enjoy complex mystery plots with stellar world building elements are going to want to jump on this series opener.

Big thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.

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The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett was shockingly good. I don't think I have ever read a better fantastical mystery. I say shockingly because I struggle with hybrid genres, especially fantasy/mystery. I find that either the worldbuilding or the mystery suffers when combined. Yet, RJB has created a fully realized and intriguing fantasy world with enhanced humans, air-conditioning mushrooms, and fearsome leviathans, all while writing an impressive mystery. Seriously, the mystery was so satisfying. The Tainted Cup is perfect for fantasy lovers looking to try the mystery genre and vice versa.

If the above isn't enough to convince you, let me tell you that Ana and Din are magical. They might be my new favorite detective duo. Their interactions left me in stitches. I smiled so much at their dialogue. I have seen several comparisons to Holmes and Watson, and I won't disagree. However, I think they more fully resemble the movie and TV versions (think Downey, Jr./Cumberbatch) than the book versions.

Are you worried about starting a new series? Don't! There are no cliffhangers here. While the ending clearly leaves room for Ana and Din's continued adventures, the mystery is wrapped up.

If you plan to read The Tainted Cup, I recommend the print/ebook version. I did a tandem read (audio and ebook), and while the audio was good, it was harder to follow. There are a lot of odd character names that I struggled to remember until I saw them with my eyes.

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House Publishing, and Del Rey for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, Del Rey and NetGalley for a copy of this ebook in exchange for an honest review.

A Fun and quirky mystery. A mix up Fantasy Sherlockian type story in which the side kick is the MC and is an integral part of solving the mystery, Not a straightforward crime and one that will keep you guessing until the end.
I enjoyed the crazy and bizarre world that this story took place in and I would return again if there were to be future books in a series.

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I have been waiting for a book so good that it swallows me whole! If you're looking for a vivid, immersive fantasy, look no further than The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett! In a world beset by monstrous leviathans, apprentice Din and his superior Ana must solve a perplexing murder that could have repercussions throughout the empire. Din can remember anything he sees, and Ana uses his memories to solve intricate crimes -- though mostly money fraud -- in a backwater area of the vast Khanum empire. But when a horrific murder falls into their laps, the duo follow the threads to a truly far-reaching conspiracy. One that endangers the very walls that repel massive titans from the deep!

Ana and Din are the fantasy Sherlock and Watson I never knew I needed! Everything about this book was excellent: the unique characters, the worldbuilding, the murder-mystery plot! My only gripe is that this is the first book in the series, so I must WAIT (oh the horror!) for Din and Ana to solve their next conspiracy. I can only hope that they have lots of adventures ahead, because this book is a real gem!!! (I've used so many exclamation marks, but quite honestly The Tainted Cup deserves every single one!) I recommend this to fantasy readers looking for unique worlds and serpentine plotting--sci-fi readers will also enjoy the intricate biomechanics that permeate this fascinating world. All I can say is read it, you won't regret it!

Thanks again to Random House Publishing Group for providing me an advance reading copy of The Tainted Cup. My review is, as always, truthful and unbiased, and I hope it helps introduce readers to new books they will love!

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Books as dense and complex as this always take me longer to get through, through no fault of the book itself. I love reading books that challenge me and man did this book do just that. Sometimes they challenge me so much, I just give up (eventually I will return to you, Way of Kings and Assassin's Apprentice).

However, I am very glad I was able to finish this book. I so rarely read something as satisfying and well written these days. Even more rarely do I read about male protagonists (personal preference) as well as the murder mystery genre (I am impatient), but this book blew me away. I love Din so much, especially his dynamic with Ana, Miljin and Strovi (please be in the next books I am begging). I loved that he is dyslexic but still managed to be so incredibly good at his job. I can't wait to read more about him and what other adventures he goes on with Ana.

Something else I appreciated about this book was the humor. I'm not one to laugh out loud at books, but I found myself chuckling multiple times while reading. I also gasped just as many, if not more times due to the plot twists and reveals I didn't see coming.

The world is so unique and interesting while not being too unfamiliar, which let me follow along without having to go back to the beginning of the book constantly to reference the map or ranks.

Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely and will absolutely be reading foundryside if it is even half as good as this book was.

Thank you to NetGalley for the Arc as always!

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3.5⭐️

This book took me a bit to get into. The world building wasn’t explained very well and I had a hard time understanding how the government worked and if it was good or bad. But once I got about 30% in, I really started to enjoy it!

The mystery was written perfectly. You slowly gained more clues about what was happening and who was behind it but not enough that it was obvious.

I’m really excited for the next book and to see what adventure Kol gets up to next.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy to review!

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