The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett (Shadow of the Leviathan #1)

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.

YEAR: 2024
LENGTH: 432 pages
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy, Mystery

Partial Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.

*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book. 

This follows the trend of the witty, arbitrarily restricted genius of several recent popular iterations of Sherlock Holmes, but with a danger that feels at once too remote and too specific to make a lot of sense to me. I can tell it's aiming for a thing that I don't like, and so I'm not going to finish it. I like banter, I like witty dialogue, but I think I'm finally at a point in my life where I don't like someone explaining to me how smart they are with information I literally had no access to until this moment. The biggest factor in this DNF is I'd started to feel like I wasn't allowed to finish other books until I struggled through this one, and I don't like books that make me feel like I can't or shouldn't read other books. I'm definitely bothered by one character's personality quirk of wearing a blindfold at all times, and treating a refusal to leave her home as an affectation that exists to annoy other people. The narrative calls attention to it but refuses to explain. I don't enjoy being told repeatedly that I don't need to know something, or at least don't get to have it revealed at this time. It doesn't feel mysterious or interesting, just irritating and petty.

Moderate CW for cursing, ableism, classism, emotional abuse, blood, gore, vomit, body horror, murder, death.

Minor CW for excrement, sexual harassment, torture.

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A gold and blue image of a tree grow out of liquid spilled from a goblet


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