Brooding and dark, Nothing but Blackened Teeth drew me in and kept me off-balance. Always on the precipice of scary, it never quite tipped over. Instead, it stayed an eerie book, one that has crawled its way into my head. I’ll be thinking about it for a long while, reliving bits and pieces of the creepy story.
Nothing but Blackened Teeth follows a group of friends who decide to rent a Heian-age mansion for an odd sort of wedding celebration. The thing is, they’ve heard it’s haunted. That’s the draw for them: they’re hoping to experience the otherworldly and the disturbing. Well, wish granted.
The story goes that originally a woman’s fiancé died on his way to marry her at the mansion. She decided to be buried alive so that she could wait for her husband like one does, I suppose. Women continued to be sacrificed, one per year, so that the buried bride wouldn’t be lonely. In all honestly, the origin story for the haunting is the part that I found to be the weakest. It just didn’t inspire that anticipatory shiver that I was hoping for.
None of the characters are particularly likable and at first, I found myself viewing them through the slasher-film lens. You know: this one will die first because they sleep around, this one next because they don’t believe in the danger, etc. However, such was not the case. The tropes became jumping-off points for complex, multi-faceted characters, each with their own flaws and fears. Half of the fun of Nothing but Blackened Teeth was watching the complicated relationships fray and slowly dissolve as the characters’ pasts caught up to them.
The story begins with Cat, a woman who is still coming to grips with an unspecified mental illness. It has affected her past and she is still in the midst of learning to cope with it. There’s Phillip, the charismatic and super rich sponsor of the mansion rental. There’s Faiz and Talia, the engaged couple. Cat and Talia have beef, and their issues with each other add to an already tense situation. Last, there’s Lin, who is a master pot-stirrer. It’s these tangled relationships and hidden emotions that really elevate Nothing but Blackened Teeth to the fascinating tale that it is.
Author Cassandra Khaw played with motifs of relationships and mental health in ways that felt a little reminiscent of Shirley Jackson (if Jackson had a penchant for gore). There were times when I wondered what was happening and what- if anything was being imagined by one character or another. Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a riveting book, perfect for fans of creepy tales with a little extra bite.
This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine. You can find that here.