My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Review: The Tainted Cup

The Tainted Cup The Tainted Cup by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in a new series by this author; and like his “founders trilogy,” it is off to great start. Where the previous trilogy opened with a “great heist” trope, this one begins with the “great mystery” trope that makes it hard to avoid a direct comparison to the my favorite detective adventures by the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe and Hercules Poirot. Here the great detective is an eccentric, Imperial Investigator, recently assigned to the boondocks of the outer regions. In a world where everybody is trying to move to the interior, it is presumed that some mysterious reversal of fortune is the reason for her exile. To aid in her investigations, she selects a local assistant/sidekick to serve as her “eyes and ears” and subsequently provides the PoV for the story (think Mr Watson’s diary) … but Din has a few secrets of his own, which only adds to all of the mystery … and there is plenty here: Why was Ana, the investigator transferred to the borderlands? How did Din suddenly and unexpectedly do well enough to finally get the success his so desperately needed? Who assassinated the military officer while he was visiting a villa of one of the most powerful families in the empire? Why and how did they do it? Of course, Ana is up to the task and solves mystery after mystery, often without leaving the confines of her own room (using just the observations reported back to her by her assistant Din). It is all a well worn and effective plot that still works for me when told as well it is here.

As good as the murder mystery is … I though the world-building was even better. The driving force behind the empire, is the destruction wrought by “Leviathans “ that periodically come ashore during the wet season. To defend against these “attacks,” the empire is divided up into walled cantons where the outer cantons use increasingly powerful bombards, guns and walls to turn back these sea titans. This whole scene had me making favorable comparisons to “Pacific Rim.” This adds yet another mystery to the plot (what are these abominations and why are they attacking). Next up is what could arguably be seen as the magic system, which could just as easily be seen as quasi-scientific biohacking. As part of the respond to these attacks, many people has augmented themselves to give them incredible (aka superhero) powers. Some of these alterations are temporary and some are permeant (and a few are inheritable, although the most extreme render the host sterile). The ones most frequently encountered in this story were Cracklers (strength), Axioms (human calculators), and Engravers (eidetic memory) … the later is what Din, the assistant investigator, is and the vivid description of his ability (and the his subsequent disability) helped make he a very relatable character. Additionally, the population was also divided upon by social function, with soldiers, engineers and iudex (justices) being the most prominent. All of this contributes to a very entertaining and natural feeling story that pulls you quickly through to the end (almost reading this in one sitting).

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheTaintedCup #ShadowoftheLeviathan #NetGalley

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.