Book Notes Review “The Tainted Cup” by Robert Jackson Bennett

Thanks to Netgalley and Ballentine Publishing for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Book cover for The Tainted Cup


The Tainted Cup
by Robert Jackson Bennett



A Holmes and Watson–style detective duo take the stage in this fantasy with a mystery twist, from the Edgar-winning, multiple Hugo-nominated Robert Jackson Bennett

“Superbly blends mystery and fantasy . . . Give me more of this world and these characters ASAP!”—#1 New York Timesbestselling author Meg Gardiner

In Daretana’s greatest mansion, a high imperial officer lies dead—killed, to all appearances, when a tree erupted from his body. Even here at the Empire’s borders, where contagions abound and the blood of the leviathans works strange magical changes, it’s a death both terrifying and impossible.
Assigned to investigate is Ana Dolabra, a detective whose reputation for brilliance is matched only by her eccentricities. Rumor has it that she wears a blindfold at all times, and that she can solve impossible cases without even stepping outside the walls of her home.
At her side is her new assistant, Dinios Kol, magically altered in ways that make him the perfect aide to Ana’s brilliance. Din is at turns scandalized, perplexed, and utterly infuriated by his new superior—but as the case unfolds and he watches Ana’s mind leap from one startling deduction to the next, he must admit that she is, indeed, the Empire’s greatest detective.
As the two close in on a mastermind and uncover a scheme that threatens 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.
By an “endlessly inventive” (Vulture) author with a “wicked sense of humor” (NPR), The Tainted Cup mixes the charms of detective fiction with brilliant world-building to deliver a fiendishly clever mystery that’s at once instantly recognizable and thrillingly new.


Ana and Din are Bennett’s take on the Holmes/Watson relationship with Ana in Sherlock’s role and Din’s in Watson’s and it’s a pairing that works really, really well. Din, Ana’s new assistant, is an engraver, meaning he’s been altered to remember everything, much like Sherlock’s own mind. But he lacks the ability, and the knowledge, to put what he sees together. (Not like Sherlock) That’s Ada’s job. She takes his detailed reports and, at a rapid speed, can see patterns and connections that evade everyone else. Ada knows how to push Din’s buttons and takes great delight in doing so. She’s a strong character, but also morally grey at times in her pursuit of justice.
Din is an engraver, but also someone who has much to learn about himself. He remembers everything he sees and hears. As the story plays out, it becomes clear he’s more than an engraver. And that he harbors a secret that could cost him everything.
The murder mystery is well-written. The initial murder sets off a chain reaction with horrific unintended consequences. Even though the murders may be solved, what they set in motion may be impossible to stop.
It took me a bit to get into this book, but once I settled in, I had trouble putting it down. The ending was satisfying.

4/5 stars.

Read an excerpt

Publishing Info

Genre: Epic Fantasy, Murder Mystery
ISBN 9781984820709
Release Date: Feb. 6