A Review of: Nothing but Blackened Teeth

Rating: 10 out of 10.

Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a horror novella with strong Japanese influence in the setting and history intertwined into the story. Published in Halloween 2021, this is the perfect book to release at the spookiest time of year. The author, Cassandra Khaw, expertly tells a tale of an effective horror that will spook you if you enjoy a good thrill. Beware, spoilers are ahead…

When I noticed the book, I was in my local Waterstones bookshop and was drawn to the cover which consists of a creepy-looking figure with no face. Instantly, I got Japanese horror vibes, and while it’s not an in-depth or long story, like The Ring novel, it does provide an excellent read and satisfies the readers’ need for a scare.

The story is set with a group of young adults in their early twenties: a couple, a lone female character who is constantly shirked by the other characters, and two single males, one the strong blonde American quarterback and the other the joker of the group. The group is travelling to a beautiful, yet haunted, mansion from the Heian-era in Japan in order to marry the couple who have always wanted to get married in a haunted house mansion. So far, we have the complete set for an effective horror, as pointed out by Joss Whedon in his film The Cabin in the Woods each character is chosen in order to create as much chaos and fear as possible, doing the most clique things such as: splitting away from the group or lashing out at each other in anger.

Khaw has cleverly chosen to identify all the clique moments in a good horror story, she identifies through a character, Lin, that in every scary film there are ‘supporting’ characters who usually die first, the ‘hero’ who dies after a struggle and then the straight white guy who will be fine. The humour and awareness that the author injects here, in a moment that is chilling in the story, is meta and quite clever, making the reader chuckle to themselves while feeling the tension in the scene.

Upon entering the mansion, the main character hears a voice saying something in Japanese, that chills her but she pushes it away, ignoring what she hears. This foreshadowing is repeated towards the end of the story, gradually increasing until it reaches the climax, which is a satisfactory peak. When the horror climax is reached, we see the ghost who is haunting the mansion, as well as additional Japanese demons. Having additional spirits haunting the mansion adds to the unsettling feel of the haunting, especially as many readers won’t know what these demons look like. There’s not much description of the demons’ faces, the author just named what kind of evils they are and upon a Google search, you will quickly see and be able to imagine what the scene would look like. It appears that the main character is the only one who can see these spirits and the ghost, and the reader feels a sense of helplessness from her as she can’t warn her friends quickly enough to let them know what other dangers are around. The description of the ghost is specific and clear, the cover gives you a good idea of what it looks like, but I preferred imagining it in my mind as it felt way more frightening.

We are introduced to a character clash between the two girls in this story early on, eventually finding out that the main character, Cat, had an affair with the other girls’ (Talia) fiance, Talia really doesn’t like Cat and makes her feelings clear towards the end. It leaves the reader thinking that under spiritual stress it seems like people are likely to snap and lash out at each other, something that is exercised in the final scene! (I shan’t spoil this bit).

The use of formatting and editing of the book was to enhance the ‘creep factor’ such as:
“… The light plunged through the gap between her lips, and there was only ink and the smell of vinegar, only
black
teeth.”
This way to layout the text can be really effective in order to keep the reader hooked onto the next line and adds tension effectively to the words. As well as emphasising the words ‘black’ and ‘teeth’, clearly, this is a focus that the author wants to centre on, as this is captured in the title. The amount of descriptive wording to describe normal items is brilliantly used as well, for such a short book it really packs a punch with how much love and detail has been put into writing this story:
“…Philip’s expression cragged with the guilt he’d held for years like a reliquary,” (p. 12).

The ending, without giving away too much, is almost anti-climactic but also works really well. The reader builds up an idea of what will happen as Khaw gives hints about the characters’ awareness of the situation. The couple who are aware of the dangers do survive, and the one you least expect to, does die.

The way the death is covered up at the end is realistic and even more horrifying as it leaves the reader shaken, questioning the darkness inside people, even those who appear innocent could end up in the deep end. We are left, in the end, wondering about the effect of the lies of the characters and how it will affect them throughout their lives, maybe to re-visit this group again in the future similar to how Stephen King did so with It.

Recommendation

This novella is a fantastic read, it took me about 2 hours to read (with distractions of life involved) and I really enjoyed the beautiful descriptive language, Khaw knows how to write an effective horror by using these descriptive pieces consistently throughout the book. It helps set the scene to be heartfelt, horrific, chilling and shocking. If you enjoy wordplay then you will enjoy reading this book.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth Summary

Theme: This is a horror novella, set in modern times, precise timeframe unknown but the author gives the idea that it’s in the current era.

Description: I would advise those aged 16+ to read this book as there is murder ideation and some glorifying of criminal behaviour. But still, a brilliant read if you want something easy to get your teeth into!

Narration: the story is told from the first-person point of view of the main character, Cat. We learn about her insecurities and are able to see how this way of telling the story is best used for the story as we get emotionally invested in the character.

The Author

Cassandra Khaw

Cassandra Khaw is a chronic freelancer who has written for more outlets than healthy, including Engadget, The Verge, PC Gamer, and RockPaperShotgun. When not otherwise writing works of nonfiction, she dabbles in fiction. 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.

Cassandra writes all sorts, from articles for magazines and novels to writing for video games and conducting interviews which are displayed on her website. You can find her most commonly on her Twitter

References

Cassandra Khaw’s website about her writing – http://www.cassandrakhaw.net/book.php

Cassandra Khaw’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/casskhaw/media

The Ring – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_(Suzuki_novel)

Video game work – http://www.cassandrakhaw.net/games.php

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