“Nothing but Blackened Teeth,” released on Oct.19, and is Cassandra Khaw’s newest horror novella and classic ghost story based on Japanese folklore. It follows five protagonists as they navigate a Heian house that is rumored to be haunted.
Rumor has it a bridegroom died on the day that his wedding was to be hosted at the manor. Succumbing to her grief, the bride-to-be buried herself in the ground, promising to wait for him until his ghost returned to the house. Every year following, a new girl is buried in the walls to keep the bride company. This is where the story begins.
Talia has dreamed of being married in a haunted house since she was a child. Phillip, the golden boy of the group, rents the haunted Heian house in Japan as a wedding gift to Talia and her future husband, Faiz. Our narrator, Cat, is Faiz’s friend and has just returned from a stay at a hospital. Her relationship with the others is strained from past events the reader isn’t fully aware of. Lastly, there is Lin. He claims to be at the wedding to see Cat, spending his time joking around and prodding the others about their pasts.
Cat starts hearing the voice of a woman repeating a phrase in Japanese and sees Yōkai—spirits in Japanese folklore— on the wall, moving. Talia leaves the group to investigate on her own, despite the others’ warnings. Tensions run high. The wedding turns into a fight for survival as decisions are made that could end with one of them six feet in the ground.
“Nothing but Blackened Teeth” feels alive. Khaw’s writing is powerful and their control of language produces sentences that are at once both beautiful and disturbing, completely immersing the reader in this haunted house expedition. Although it is short (roughly 115 pages), the atmosphere oozes from every page, keeping the reader engaged as new information is uncovered.
The characters were enjoyable to read about even though they are extremely unlikeable. Their relationships with one another are dysfunctional and messy, making it hard to care if they made it out alive. At times, the characters can feel two-dimensional, but the choices they made were entertaining and realistic enough to keep me reading.
Khaw has taken the traditional haunted house story and flipped it on its head, resulting in a creepy, vivid read that examines grief, friendship, and what happens when we are confronted by our inner demons. I would give “Nothing but Blackened Teeth” 3/5 stars.