Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Sophia Rose Reviews: The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett


Today Sophia Rose brings us a review of The Tainted Cup, a first in a new fantasy mystery series. Stop by and see what she thought.

The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

#1 Shadow of the Leviathan

Fantasy Mystery

Publisher:  Del Rey

Published: 2.6.24

Pages:  432

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Format: eARC

Source:  NetGalley

Sellers:  Amazon

ADD TO: GoodReads


GoodReads Synopsis:

In Daretana’s most opulent mansion, a high Imperial officer lies dead—killed, to all appearances, when a tree spontaneously erupted from his body. Even in this canton at the borders of the Empire, where contagions abound and the blood of the Leviathans works strange magical changes, it’s a death at once terrifying and impossible.

Called in to investigate this mystery is Ana Dolabra, an investigator whose reputation for brilliance is matched only by her eccentricities.

At her side is her new assistant, Dinios Kol. Din is an engraver, magically altered to possess a perfect memory. His job is to observe and report, and act as his superior’s eyes and ears--quite literally, in this case, as among Ana’s quirks are her insistence on wearing a blindfold at all times, and her refusal to step outside the walls of her home.

Din is most perplexed by Ana’s ravenous appetite for information and her mind’s frenzied leaps—not to mention her cheerful disregard for propriety and the apparent joy she takes in scandalizing her young counterpart. Yet as the case unfolds and Ana makes one startling deduction after the next, he finds it hard to deny that she is, indeed, the Empire’s greatest detective.

As the two close in on a mastermind and uncover a scheme that threatens the safety of the Empire itself, Din realizes he’s barely begun to assemble the puzzle that is Ana Dolabra—and wonders how long he’ll be able to keep his own secrets safe from her piercing intellect.

Featuring an unforgettable Holmes-and-Watson style pairing, a gloriously labyrinthine plot, and a haunting and wholly original fantasy world, The Tainted Cup brilliantly reinvents the classic mystery tale.


Sophia Rose's Review:

An intriguing, magical fantasy world and a cunning mystery are brought together in one captivating series opener.  Robert Jackson Bennett is a new to me author who has made me sit up and realize that fantasy blended with mystery might just be my new favorite thing.


A Tainted Cup introduces a fascinating exotic fantasy setting that brought to mind medieval Chinese history if that were paired with a unique type of magical world where everything from the very people of the ancient Khanum Empire to the houses they reside in are infused with the magical blood that drenched the plants, soil, and creatures.  The magical blood comes from the great, fearsome leviathan creatures who prey on their land and the people of the empire unite behind great sea walls to keep out and fight off- occasionally killing one and spilling its blood when it makes landfall. 


The empire is in a class structure with the very wealthy living furthest inland from the sea and the threat of the massive leviathan monsters behind three further walled sections of the land.  The people are made up of a handful of ethnical races, but all are under imperial leadership. 


The main narrator of the story, Dinios ‘Din’ Kol, lives in the furthest ring from the center and his goal is to save enough money to buy his family land within the next ring over, the Third Ring.  To do this, Din has qualified for alterations to be an apprentice engraver (his brain is altered so that he records through all senses everything he encounters and can reproduce it all to an exacting degree admissible for legal purposes) working for the judicial branch of the Empire.  He’s been assigned to a recently arrived Imperial investigator, Ana Dolobra, who is as eccentric as it gets.  She stays isolated behind the walls of her cabin in the jungle due to her senses needing protection from overstimulation. Thus, Din is the one who must be her literal eyes and ears on the investigation they are presented with when a man is killed in a horrific, mysterious manner.


The Tainted Cup gives a fabulous nod to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in the characters of Ana and Din right down to Din being the one to tell their story.  I thought the introduction to their world, them as individuals and a beginning partnership, and the adventures they have on their investigation was woven rather well.  Always in the background and sometimes the forefront is the constant danger during this wet season of a leviathan getting through the high sea walls and the military fortifications there to rampage and kill them all.


This was a fully-developed and complete tale leaving a few minor threads dangling after the fabulous finish of mystery and climaxes of action.  I liked that though the author gave enough to give the reader a mental picture of the world and the characters, there felt like that was the beginning and much more will be revealed as the series progresses.


And, so I thought The Tainted Cup was sensational and can’t wait for more.  Recommended for those who enjoy a writing style that engages all the reader’s inner senses and paints an amazing fantasy world with colorful, well-developed characters and mystery.


Author Bio:

Robert is the author of American Elsewhere, The Troupe, The Company Man, Mr. Shivers, as well as The Divine Cities trilogy and The Founders Trilogy. The final installment of The Founders Trilogy, LOCKLANDS, is in stores June of 2022.

His work has received the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Phillip K. Dick Citation of Excellence, and he has been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Locus Awards.

He lives in Austin with his wife and two sons, one of whom is very large and one of whom is very loud, and he focuses on writing and not maintaining his website.


Sophia’s Bio:

Sophia is a quiet though curious gal who dabbles in cooking, book reviewing, piano-playing, and gardening. Road trips and campouts, museums and monuments, restaurants and theaters are her jam. Encouraged and supported by an incredible man and loving family. A Northern Californian transplant to the Great Lakes Region of the US. Lover of Jane Austen, Baseball, Cats, Scooby Doo, and Chocolate.

As a lifelong reader, it was inevitable that Sophia would discover book blogs and the joy of blog reviewing. Sophia is a prolific reader and audiobook listener which allows her to experience so many wonderful books, authors, and narrators. Few genres are outside her reading tastes, but her true love is fiction particularly history, mystery, sci-fi, and romance. Though, sorry, no horror or she will run like Shaggy and Scooby.






  1. I really need to get this one seeing Anne and your praise! I'm sure I'd love it, too!

    1. Oh yeah! Loaded with creativity and mystery that I know you'd love, Rachel. :)

  2. I really loved this one.

    Anne - Books of My Heart

  3. Dang it, what is this?! I have totally missed that he had a new one coming out