‘Nothing But Blackened Teeth’ book review: A haunted house dripping in Japanese folklore

Our Nothing But Blackened Teeth book review explores Cassandra Khaw’s fast-paced novella, which will leave you gasping for breath until the final page.

I walked into this book expecting it to chill me to the bone, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. The premise is simple enough—five friends travel to Japan to stay in a haunted mansion. Two of them are eloping, one is there to marry them, and the other two will act as witnesses. What could go wrong?

The group doesn’t exactly get off on the right foot. The book plops you down into the middle of their lives, in the middle of this moment. You quickly learn they don’t all get along, exactly—allegiances are tenuous at best, and everyone seems to be reluctantly doing the other one a favor.

As the story unravels, you’re forced to pull apart the strings and examine them. Our main character, Cat, has an entire backstory hinted at but not necessarily explained. It both entices you to look closer and makes you want to hold it out at arm’s length. You feel for her, but you feel for the other characters, too. Each seem to be trying their best to navigate this so-called celebration, and yet each one is painfully and obviously flawed.

And like most haunted houses, the mansion feeds on this. Khaw is a brilliant writer, assaulting all five senses with her descriptions. You can hear the house breathing, taste the decay, smell the mold, feel the pain, and see its hungry eyes peering back at you. The book does not last long at just 93 pages, but it sticks to your ribs like a hearty meal. Except you’re the one being consumed.

nothing but blackened teeth cover

If you’re a fan of Haunting of Hill House (as I am), I see no reason why you wouldn’t also love this little story. The house is a character in its own right—perhaps the main character—and it deserves to have its story told. It’s a tale of blood and sacrifice, and the house demands payment in kind. It has welcomed these people into its open arms, ready to feast on their anger, their sorrow, their regrets.

Even if you don’t know much about Japanese folklore, this story has a way of burrowing into your brain and making a home for itself. Through this Nothing But Blackened Teeth book review, I cannot possibly oversell Khaw’s prose, which sometimes borders on lyrical. She has the ability to turn the most disgusting description into a beautiful poem, of pitting the horror of death against the allure of freedom from this life. The story almost takes a backseat to the artistry she’s infused into every page, every sentence, every word.

One of the primary pulls of the book is the pacing, which drives you from room to room without tiring. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing this was a full-length novel, so I could revel in the danger and decomposition of the house. I want to know more about each of these characters. I want to see them painfully pulled apart and stitched back together. I want to watch the house consume them one by one, then settle back into its foundation until someone else wanders into its open maw.

Needless to say, this story will stay with me for quite some time. It was a perfect read for Halloween, and would make an excellent gift for All Hallow’s Read. It’s up to you whether you want to give your friends the courtesy of a warning about the despair that lives within these pages.

‘Nothing But Blackened Teeth’ hit store shelves on October 19, 2021

Buy Nothing But Blacked Teeth by Cassandra Khaw from Tor, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.