Horror is a genre that is much more flexible in approach than any other in my opinion. You can tell such unique stories that explore themes like sexuality, trauma, and mental illness through monsters and the unknown. While Nothing But Blackened Teeth does have some supernatural elements and monsters in its pages, what crawled up my spine most was the social dread brought upon by the group dynamics. It’s a very scary book but what truly terrified me most was the unknown element of what a group’s relationship history could unearth.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth follows said group of friends as they gather at an abandoned Heian-era mansion to celebrate a marriage. The mansion is supposedly packed full of girls who were sacrificed to keep the bones of a bridge company. If I were a better salesman, I would slap the walls of this mansion and make a joke about “this bad boy can fit so many skeletons!” This sounds like the perfect venue to celebrate what should be the happiest day of your life right? Things quickly descend into terror as the ghost bride with blackened teeth comes to the party.
This story is full of references to Japanese culture and lore which I cannot personally speak to. I found myself looking things up more out of curiosity to learn more rather than needing it to enjoy the story. There was one thing I did know, which happens to be about Tanuki and their big balls, if that tells you about who I am as a human being. But I will not be focusing on those things for my review of the story. I want to focus on friendship.
Cassandra Khaw created a fully fleshed out circle of friends with utmost accuracy to real feelings, complicated pasts, and the messy interworkings that come with time. Cat, our main protagonist, gives descriptions of her friends as only someone who has known them for years could. Khaw masterfully peels back the exterior layers of their characters, stripping the friends of the carefully curated masks they show the world to who they actually are underneath. Every character in the story is fully fleshed out with a web of emotions and pasts with one another. As I found myself sinking deeper into the abyss of other people’s lives, I could see the different pieces falling into place and could almost tell where some lines were going to cross. But then other things never came to be, truths that will always stayed buried like the many corpses holding this mansion up. Khaw’s writing in the 128-page novella created characters so well realized where some 500-page novels never accomplish such a feat.
Everything about this story is tight, cutting, and horrific. From the web of feelings amongst the group to the turn into the darkness it takes about halfway through, Cassandra Khaw has written a story that leaves you a bit shaken. I do not want to give anything away which is why I speak so vaguely but I want to make one thing clear. The ending of this story is truly horrific in ways you cannot comprehend until you read it. I just hope once you finish it, you don’t see the blackened teeth yourself.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth from Tor Nightfire is available for purchase October 19th, 2021 at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.