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The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

08/03/2024
The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

In creating the investigative pairing of Holmes and Watson, Arthur Conan Doyle set a crime fiction template that is still being widely used. That of the highly gifted savant investigator and their handy, more active offsider. In The Tainted Cup, Robert Jackson Bennet takes these Holmes and Watson tropes and translates them to a fascinating and complex fantasy world. Like the best of crime fiction, he then uses the investigation to explore and expose the world that his characters inhabit.

The Tainted Cup begins with a horrific death. At an exclusive estate in a remote part of the Empire, an imperial engineer is killed when a grass like plant explodes from his body. Dinios Kol, assistant to investigator Ana Dolabra is sent to examine the scene and report back. Kol has been enhanced to be an ‘engraver’, which means he has perfect recall of everything he sees and hears. Which is handy as Dolabra stays in her book strewn house and mostly wears a blindfold. Solving the case only leads to more questions and soon the pair are off to the local capital of Talagaray where similar murders have occurred. But all is not safe in Talagaray which is close to the walls which protect the Empire from giant kaiju-like monsters called Leviathans that come from the sea. As the threat from the sea grows, Dolabra and Kol find the threads of their investigation reach back into the past and go higher than is safe for them.

The Tainted Cup is a great fantasy novel and a great detective novel. The world that Bennett creates is one that is driven by the use of plants and additives derived from the very monsters that threaten its existence. And he uses the investigation to reveal these details rather than relying on exposition. All of this is done sufficiently so that readers can then follow how the rules of this world impact on the resolution of the mystery.

And it is full of great characters. Dolabra follows in the mould of Sherlock Holmes – frighteningly intelligent, dismissive of authority, addicted to danger and subterfuge to prove her theories, and usually at least a few steps ahead of everyone else involved in the investigation. But Kol, as the one who gets into all of the action, is the character around whom the story revolves. And he works effectively as Dolabra’s Watson, he has his own talents and inner strength but also a few skeletons that he carries around.

As with all good mystery stories, Bennett wraps up the action neatly. But the action in this book was set in one small area on the fringes of the Empire. Not only that, but there are some connections left dangling. The Tainted Cup feels like the first book in a series with plenty more of this fascinating world to explore. And, through Dolabra and Kol, a pair of engaging characters to continue to explore it with.

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The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

$34.99
9

9.0/10

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The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett

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