Last spring I found out a new novella that was coming, Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw. The horrifying cover and description both captured my attention, and I pre-ordered the ebook, excited for October to arrive. Today, while everyone is celebrating Halloween, felt like the perfect time to read the whole story.
|Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw|
|Number of Pages||125|
|Format I Read||Ebook|
|Original Publication Date||October 19, 2021|
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.
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I often do. While this can mean missing out on great books just because their covers didn’t catch your eye, it can also mean choosing a book because of its amazing cover… and then being disappointed. To be fair, I didn’t pre-order Nothing But Blackened Teeth *only* because of that terrifyingly beautiful cover; I found the summary to be equally enthralling. This was one of my most anticipated books of the season. But I’m sad to report that I didn’t really enjoy it.
Let’s start with the good: I loved the setting of a haunted mansion built in Japan’s Heian period (794-1185). I also loved the spooky figures from Japanese folklore. Not being familiar with what they were, I did need to look them up in order to understand, but I didn’t mind that; I love getting to learn about different cultures and histories and mythologies. The setup here is also good: five friends ready to have an unconventional, spooktacular wedding. Additionally, the friends bring some great, diverse representation: Besides one white guy, the other four are Chinese, half-Japanese, and part Bengali, part Telegu. The main character is bisexual.
However, beyond all of that, there were some issues in Nothing But Blackened Teeth that I couldn’t get past. First, the characters were oddly annoying. This is an adult novella, but the characters – all in their mid-20s – were rather immature, petty, and argumentative. I don’t mind fraught relationships, but these characters were constantly bickering, even during the scariest moments of the story. It really took away from the fear factor. Perhaps it was trying for horror comedy? In any case, it eliminated any real sense of dread or fear. And because of how little I connected with the characters, I simply didn’t care what happened to any of them.
Further, the writing style of Nothing But Blackened Teeth didn’t work for me. There are a lot of gorgeous and unusual descriptions, but they’re bogged down by excessive use of similes. There were so many similes – sometimes multiple in a single paragraph or even sentence – that it was hard to take the book seriously. In general, I don’t mind flowery, lyrical language. But this went beyond literary writing and into an overuse of similes as a sort of writing crutch.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth was a quick and easy read, but it ultimately left me frustrated and dissatisfied. I wish it was scarier, that the characters were less irritating, and that the story felt more cohesive and focused. Instead, it was a brief jumble of positives (intriguing setting and use of Japanese folklore) and distracting, glaring negatives (prose and characters).
I wish I liked Nothing But Blackened Teeth, but alas, it was a letdown for me. At least the cover art is amazing.
About the Author
Cassandra Khaw is an award-winning game writer, whose fiction work has been nominated for several awards. You can find their fiction in places like F&SF, Year’s Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Tor.com. Their next book Nothing But Blackened Teeth is coming out in 2021.
They can be found on Twitter mostly! twitter.com/casskhaw