Nothing But Blackened Teeth

TL;DR: Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a fast-paced, riveting haunted house story that I read straight through in one sitting. Five friends head into a Heian-era manor to celebrate the wedding of two of their number because of the bride’s wish to be married in a haunted house. It’s perfect for spooky evenings and hits bookstores October 2021. Find it on GoodReads.

I received a copy of Nothing But Blackened Teeth from NetGalley/Tor Nightfire in exchange for an honest review. This review contains no spoilers.

I picked up this book about thirty minutes to midnight, alone in bed with the lights off. I figured I’d read a few pages before bed and pick back up the next day.

Instead, I was up until about 1 a.m. inhaling this story.

The premise of this story is a delicious one. Five friends — or, “friends”, perhaps — head to a Heian-era manor to celebrate the wedding of two of their number. The bride had dreamed of getting married in a haunted house and this one really fits the bill: a woman was buried alive in the house at her request after her groom’s death with the promise to wait for him. She also wanted a new sacrifice to keep her company each year thereafter.

Obviously, things go wrong. Like, really, super, very wrong.

I love so much about this book: the setting, the mythology, the brokenness of five friends who have long since outgrown each other but cling to one another because that’s all they know. While I saw some reviews note that the prose is “purple” to a distracting extent, I have to disagree; the language felt natural for a young woman trying to (re-)find her place in the world. There’s an air of almost obsessive observation about her:

Phillip excelled at inciting want, particularly the kind that tottered on the border of worship. Small wonder he was so inept at compassion sometimes. Every religion is a one-way relationship.

Cassandra Khaw, Nothing But Blackened Teeth

These snippets of the world around our narrator make me feel like I can see it through her eyes. That, in turn, makes it all the more real.

My one wish: that this story had taken more room to breathe. Caveat here: I’m very much a fan of slow-burn horror/ghost stories – the kind that leave some people bored (I loved the pacing in The Haunting of Bly Manor, for example). I was riveted to the page because the book moves fast and putting it down felt unthinkable; it was like I couldn’t get off the ride. That also meant I couldn’t immerse myself fully in all the scenes before the next one came along, and I loved the story enough to want to live in it. Even so, I’ll definitely be seeking out Khaw’s work in the future; I can’t wait to read more.

I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a haunted house story, especially those who want to dive headfirst into spooky season. Recommended setup: curled up in bed near midnight, with just some candles (maybe a hundred?) to light your way.