Book Review : Nothing but Blackened Teeth

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : Nothing but Blackened TeethNothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
Published by Nightfire on October 19th 2021
Genres: Horror, Occult & Supernatural, Paranormal
Pages: 128
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Source: NetGalley

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.

After reading the synopsis for Nothing But Blackened Teeth, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. That, and the unforgettable cover, too. So despite being the person who screams during horror movies when her dog sneezes, and throws the controller during jump scares in video games, I requested an ARC copy of Nothing but Blackened Teeth. Though I got strong The Ring and The Grudge vibes from the description of the novel and the setting of a haunted Heian mansion, I found that Nothing but Blackened Teeth wasn’t much like either of those films after all. In fact, it strongly put me to mind of the video game Until Dawn, where a group of friends (who are super incestuous and all seem to have dated one another at some point, have lots of secrets from each other, and hold a lot of long grudges), meet up in a reunion and everything goes horrifically wrong.


Much like that aforementioned video game, it doesn’t take long for things to go south quickly in Nothing but Blackened Teeth.  From the very moment narrator Cat sets foot in the haunted house, to fulfill a frenemy’s dream of a wedding in a haunted house, she has a strong feeling that this isn’t going to be like their other forays into haunted houses. It starts with a mysterious, melodious whisper in Japanese that no one else can hear and quickly spirals into possession from there. Before long, Cat isn’t just dealing with the past demons of her friend group, but an undead bride who has been waiting a very long time for company. 


I still really liked the premise of Nothing but Blackened Teeth, but I was shocked at how short the novel actually was. According to Goodreads, it is a mere 128 pages, something I failed to check before getting myself all hyped up for a full-length horror novel. After reading Nothing but Blackened Teeth, I learned that the author, Cassandra Khaw is actually a former screenwriter, so perhaps the shortness of her work, the fast-paced story that hurtles itself to a break-neck conclusion, as well as the lack of a lot of character introduction, is indicative of Ms. Khaw’s former occupation. 


Oddly enough, despite having what feels like a very tight script, the novel is filled with ornate, sometimes bewildering and jarring descriptions. The fact that I spent much of the time I was reading trying to decipher the extremely loquacious purple prose, made it seem like not much was really happening, and consequently made the work feel even shorter. Plus, many of these extreme descriptions were not even of something scary, but they definitely possessed the entire page in a different way. Though I respect and even commend the author for her unabashed use of such purple prose, it is really not a writing style that I personally enjoy reading. 


“My laugh was just bones knocking together, without any meat to cushion their clamor. Hateful, hollow.”


I find that this writing style really distracts me from the overall plot of the novella, but the often dark imagery the author weaves certainly does add to the heavy atmosphere and the unique, especially in the cases when she uses it to describe the yokai and undead bride. I also did not really care for the repeated breaking of the fourth wall in the novel, but other readers may find it refreshing or entertaining. Characters remark on whether they are minorities, virgins, bisexuals, etc., and what those categories mean for their survival chances within classic horror scenarios. While humorous, and undoubtedly there to add some levity to a rather bleak tale, I couldn’t help feeling the jokes were completely out of place with the oppressive imagery and darker themes of cheating spouses, ruined relationships, ended friendships, and the actual haunting of the novel. Plus, it seems like it took up a lot of unnecessary space in such a short work. 


“Cat, this is literally the part where the supporting cast dies horribly. You’re bisexual. I’m the comic relief. It’s going to be one of us.”


Unfortunately, despite the characters’ very real fear and the creepy atmosphere, I just didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. I honestly don’t understand why any of them are friends. The narrator, Cat, is a mess, and the others aren’t much better off. Like seriously, why would someone want to get married in a haunted house, let alone one famous for its undead brides of all things? They’re constantly at each other’s throats, usually over vague ancient history,  and I honestly couldn’t help but to root for the creepy undead bride to come and murder all of them so I could finally have some peace. That made it somewhat hard for me to be scared by said undead creature, which one would argue is the entire point of a horror story. 


Despite not being a big fan of what I felt was a strange mix of modernity and recognition of the horror tropes with the dark imagery, I really do think Nothing but Blackened Teeth would make a great horror movie, or even video game. It would certainty need to be a bit more fleshed out for either kinds of those adaptations, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a story and so strongly pictured it as another medium. Perhaps that’s due to the unapologetically purple and descriptive prose. If you are a very big fan of horror or prefer to read short stories, I think you will enjoy this novella. If you enjoy longer tales, with lots of build up, suspense, and character development, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is not the read for you. 

Book Review : Nothing but Blacked Teeth - Blogging with Dragons

Posted March 8, 2021 in Book Reviews, Mystery, Thrillers, and Horror

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