Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw is an immersive novella that pulls you into a gruesome tale of ruined, rotten things. I can’t think of a better way to welcome Halloween than spending an evening trapped inside a haunted mansion with Cat and her ill-fated friends.
For a group of amateur ghost hunters, attending a wedding at a mansion rumored to be haunted seemed like the perfect opportunity for a reunion. Unfortunately, no one stopped to consider that the ghost haunting the place is that of a heartbroken bride, and the bones of all the women sacrificed to keep her from getting too lonely are still piled inside the walls. When bitter grudges and violate secrets bubble to the surface, their exciting getaway suddenly turns dangerous.
Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a story about ruined things. Friendships, love affairs, legends – nothing escapes the rot that’s spreading through the mansion. While it may be easy to discredit the lyrical writing as purple prose, atmosphere is key for horror stories, and atmosphere is where Khaw thrives. Instead of relying on jumpscares, Khaw takes her time, steadily weaving terror into beautifully constructed sentences. Every vivid description breathes life into the setting until you can’t help but feel the hidden darkness lingering behind every word. The result is a creeping dread that’s the perfect backdrop for the tension that soon erupts between the characters.
Outside of the writing, everything about Nothing but Blackened Teeth is ugly. Khaw feeds into every blemish, unapologetically leaving you writhing in discomfort. While this undoubtedly helps build the themes of destruction that drive the story forward, the plot sometimes snags on its rough edges. The roughest of those being the dynamics between the wedding party. At their best, Cat and her group of not-quite-friends bring out the worst in each other, repeatedly grating you with their flaws. They’re juvenile and horrible at their worst, stealing the attention from where you want it to be on the most: the ghost haunting the mansion.
As it goes with many novellas, there isn’t enough time to explore every thread introduced in the story. Motives are left mysteries, and tensions and personal histories are teased instead of being flushed out. But even with a few puzzle pieces missing, there’s enough substance behind Nothing but Blackened Teeth to leave you feeling satisfied, and more importantly, thoroughly creeped out.
Thanks to Tor Nightfire and Cassandra Khaw for an advance reading copy of Nothing But Blackened Teeth for an honest review.