The Tainted Cup

Book cover of The Tainted Cup.
Book 1 of Shadow of the Leviathan series


The Tainted Cup is a fantasy detective novel set in a world where humanity is on the brink of destruction from giant Kaiju. It follows investigators Dinios Kol and Ana Dolabra as they try to solve the murder of an engineer and uncover a conspiracy that runs far deeper.

The Tainted Cup is (and this is going to sound crazy) a Holmesian detective story set in a bio-punk fantasy world based on imperial China, where Kaiju monsters leave the ocean every year to attack the empire’s walls. It draws inspiration from Sherlock Holmes, Attack on Titan, Pacific Rim, The Book of the New Sun, and surprisingly, local zoning boards.1

The main characters are Dinios Kol, a new investigator, and his superior, Ana Dolabra. Kol is a dyslexic Watson with eidetic memory, while Dolabra is an over-stimulated, foul-mouthed Sherlock Holmes. They are called to solve the murder of an imperial engineer, leading them to uncover a conspiracy involving the landed gentry.

The Tainted Cup’s worldbuilding is fantastic! Most technology is plant-based, and many people have had their bodies enhanced in various ways to better suit their jobs—like Dinios’s eidetic memory. Unlike House of Suns, the last book I read, the worldbuilding exists in service of the story. The world feels organic because it isn’t built through lore dumps but through the characters living in it. Half the excitement of reading The Tainted Cup comes from unraveling the central mystery, while the other half comes from gradually uncovering and understanding the intricacies of the setting.

The Tainted Cup also pays homage to Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun.2 The first chapter, with Dinios’s arrival at the Haza manor, mirrors Severian’s arrival at the citadel in the opening chapter of The Shadow of the Torturer: an officer of the law with perfect memory arrives at a wall in the mist and finds his way barred by a gate; he is reluctantly let through and finds a body inside. Later in The Tainted Cup, we learn that there are immortal Conzulates who, just like Gene Wolfe’s Megatherians, achieve immortality through constant growth. Moreover, the idea of “giant underwater monsters trying to destroy the Empire” applies to both the Megatherians and the Kaiju, although the Kaiju are more direct.

I really enjoyed the characters in The Tainted Cup and its unique setting. The book is the first part in an as-of-yet unwritten series, and it left enough questions about the world unanswered for the next few books to explore. I look forward to reading them!

  1. Not joking! The author, Bennett, specifically mentions this in his afterwards, but it is also pretty obvious from the text itself, in which preservation boards act as an enabler of the larger conspiracy. 

  2. I feel like I’m in danger of succumbing to the traditional ailment of The Book of the New Sun fans: seeing connections where there are none.