Review: “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” by Cassandra Khaw

Release Date: October 19, 2021
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Genre: Horror

Description

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.

My Thoughts

I love a haunted house ghost story, and Cassandra Khaw delivers a hella good one with Nothing But Blackened Teeth. In classic haunted house fashion, a group of twentysomething friends find themselves trapped in a crumbling mansion with only their petty arguments and long-held grudges to keep them going. 

Here, the friends rent out an abandoned mansion in Japan for a pre-wedding party. Cat, the character we have our POV on, is on rocky terms with everyone in the group, largely stemming from a broken relationship and a stint in a mental hospital. The group is as haunted as the house, and their interpersonal chaos adds to the tension and fear. Although they joke about the ghost of a dead bride buried in the foundations of the mansion, the yōkai (Japanese malevolent spirits) turn out to be very real. And very pissed off at their intrusion. Soon, one of the yōkai, an ohaguro-bettari, takes possession of the living bride, and the group must make some big sacrifices to free her. 

Khaw is very good at telling big stories in small formats. (Taking this moment to remind you to read her Persons Non Grata novella series if you haven’t already.) This was a taut thriller with a lot of moving parts. They’re an evocative writer, one who can make the reader feel like they’re right there with the characters.  

The only real negative is that the novella is a little too brief. I don’t mean in page length or word count. It needed more depth to the characters and the world building. This is a story that relies heavily on the storm brewing between the friends, but we don’t get quite enough backstory or character development to make the horror elements feel as powerful as they should. Khaw offers hints of past baggage and glimpses of characters, but it wasn’t quite enough to make me really care about what happened to the characters. Nevertheless, it’s a good horror novella that should satisfy most readers, whether they be horror fans or not.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy.

Buy it at bookshop.org (affiliate link).

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