Book: “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” by Cassandra Khaw
Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, October 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists.
A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company. It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.
But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.
And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novella!
While I’ve seen and read a fair number of Japanese and Japanese inspired horror things, I know that there are many, MANY stories out there that I haven’t come across as of yet. I don’t have a very vast knowledge of Japanese folklore in general, and therefore I’m definitely game to read anything that would broaden my horizons in that manner. Enter “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” by Cassandra Khaw, a new horror novella that takes place in a rural Heian-Era mansion in Japan that is super, super haunted. I’m no stranger to various Japanese haunted house stories, from “Ju-On” to “Hausu”, but the cover alone of this book caught my attention. And hey, haunted house stories? Absolutely my jam. I held onto “Nothing But the Blackened Teeth” for what was supposed to be a stormy night, and though we didn’t get the rain we were promised I still found myself reading the book at night, which was, perhaps, a mistake. Because it’s SCARY.
“Nothing But Blackened Teeth” is a novella clocking in at around 120 pages, but Khaw has no trouble building a plot, pulling out everything they can from their characters, and leading them to a terrifying ending. It never feels rushed to get to that point, it never feels like we could have learned more about our cast or the house itself, and it is engaging and definitely terrifying. Khaw has a gift for description and atmosphere, as I could see the mansion as it goes from abandoned but docile home to an incredibly disturbing hellscape. While Cat is definitely the character we get to know the best, we still get to know enough about most of her friends and all of the tenuous relationship strings between them to fully buy into the choices they make, from the good to the bad. It feels like a slow burn at first, but the tension starts to build from the get go and when it finally releases it’s SO unnerving and scary.
And a lot of the scares come from the Japanese folklore that the horror elements derive themselves from, namely the Ohaguro-Bettari, a spirit that takes the form of a bride whose facial features are only a mouth filled with black teeth. I know a little bit about Japanese folklore and ghosts, specifically the Onryō, so seeing another yokai (spirit) at the forefront was refreshing and new to me. It made me do some independent reading on more Japanese folklore regarding ghosts and entities, which was really fun for me as a horror fan who likes lore of all kinds. And boy does Khaw really make this the stuff of nightmares. Cat is the first to start seeing this yokai, and given that she has a history of mental problems we get the usual ‘is this really happening or am I going crazy’ questioning that comes with such a history in stories like these. But what I liked is that for the most part Cat isn’t portrayed as hallucinating to the reader, and instead of an unreliable narrator we get a woman who is seeing something VERY wrong, and therein slowly sending shivers up our spines every time she sees something. Until, that is, it goes full gonzo bloodsoaked horror show. Khaw nails every part of the horror here, and the end was so incredibly disturbing that I had to flip back to re-read a few things to make sure that THAT was what had happened. I think that I would have liked even more suspense before we got to the gory ending, and maybe a little more easing into the wrap up, but overall it was enjoyable as hell and a sinister ghost story soaked in viscera and blood. And very easy to read in one sitting (though maybe not late at night, a tip from me to you)!
“Nothing But Blackened Teeth” is an enjoyable novella that set me on edge. Halloween is almost here, and if you haven’t read this one yet you should make it a part of your reading list before the holiday passes us by!
Rating 8: Disturbing, atmospheric, and brimming with Japanese folklore and yokai, “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” is the perfect short read for this Halloween season!