Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

My Rating: 2 Stars

Many thanks to Nightfire, Macmillan Publishing, and NetGalley for ARC. This book comes out today, October 19 2021.

Whoever designed this cover nailed it just as much as Khaw nails the terrifying atmosphere in this novella. Nothing But Blackened Teeth presents us with a group of five friends gathering in a haunted Japanese Heian-era mansion for a destination wedding. Right off the bat, something doesn’t seem right. It smells of rot and decay, yet it looks like someone has come in to fix things up for the guests. And for someone who made the arrangements, Phillip, the rich, golden boy of the group, seems to know disturbingly little about the place. It only gets creepier as they start telling ghost stories and Cat, our narrator, starts hearing and seeing things. And the climax is absolutely horrifying.

Unfortunately, that’s about all that worked for me in this book. For me, the characters are always the most important part of a horror story. I need to be invested in them. Things start out promising; there’s tension between every member of the friend group, and Cat has just been released from the hospital after a suicide attempt. But it ends there. The characters remain stereotypes with no growth or development. We never get to find out what’s going on between each character and how their friendships started to fall apart. I couldn’t even understand why they’re friends in the first place because they all seem to hate each other. I just couldn’t care about them, which made it hard to actually be into the book.

I also found the constant breaking of the fourth wall a little irritating. It’s clear that Khaw is playing with stereotypes of the genre, and I did like how she subverts them. But having characters point out who is the hero and the moments when supporting cast members generally die just took me out of the story. It also seemed heavy handed to me, as if Khaw doesn’t trust the reader to figure out the way she’s twisting tropes on their own. Some people probably find it clever and funny. It just didn’t work for me.

Overall, Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a quick, gory read for this Halloween season. I prefer longer horror stories with more build up and character development, so it didn’t work for me. But there’s definitely an audience for it, and I still suggest checking it out!

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