Cover Image: Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Nothing But Blackened Teeth

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Member Reviews

This novel is short, but deliciously creepy. I enjoyed the elements of Japanese folklore, but was surprised by how much was left unanswered in the end.
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This literally gave me nightmares.

If you're looking for something that will make you question if the shadows make sounds and if you're sane or not, this is perfect. I screamed, and I felt. 

This was good, and SPOOKY.
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The cover of this book is so gorgeous, that I was just so excited to review this book. I’m also a huge fan of asian-themed cultural horror, however - this book was disappointing at best. The biggest cultural influence is brief, not in-depth mentions of folklore creatures like Kappa’s and Kitsunes, without ever explaining what they are or their motivations. The book is just too short to properly flesh out the folklore, history, and characterizations. Everything felt so rushed, that in-between chapters, or even paragraphs - it felt like there should have been at least a chapter in between. We were suddenly from A to C, and never visited B. 
The prose is gorgeous, but distracting. At times there was so much prose and metaphor I had no idea what was going on, there was more prose then proper explanations of what was going on. Than fleshing out the folktales and plot. It feels like the book was at least 70% fluff. On top of this, I actively disliked all the characters - and the only one who feels like they could be redeemed dies! It made the entire book feel pointless, because the character’s never went through any sort of change of growth. They arrived, watched their friend be murdered, and then left as the exact same person and ignoring what had happened. There is no justice in the novel for those who deserved it, not active story telling when characters did not go through any sort of development. We are told the main character is bi-sexual, and that basically replaces who she is as a person. It’s really all we learn about her, and the other character’s sort of use her like some lifeless doll to push around the plot. They tell her what to do a lot, and she goes with it. She seems to be watching the story a lot more then someone active within it.
However, the author is beautifully talented at writing captivating sentences. As said, her prose is stunning. I feel like this book would benefit greatly by being at least 300-400 pages. Instead of 128 pages. It really felt like there wasn’t a story to be told.
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Cat's friend Phillip rents a Japanese mansion for the wedding of his ex and his friend for their wedding.  Nadia, the bride, wants to marry in a haunted house.  Will the ghost let them?  The story is one of Japanese mythology.  I loved the story but, oh my, was it wordy.  Descriptions of places and things in books are usually welcome but in this novella it's overdone so often that it takes away from the story.  It would have been a 5 star book otherwise.  But all in all, I really did  like the storyline.  It was spooky like a good haunted house story should be.  I'm very happy that I was able to read it.
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I loved it. I straight up loved it. It was creepy and ominous and I had to put the book down a few times to root myself in reality before I could pick it up again. Did I mention that I loved it? Because I LOVED IT.
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Advanced Reader Copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Let me preface this by saying that I went into this novella knowing nothing about the author or their style. That being said, the biggest reasons for my scoring came down to two things: the prose and the ending. Both of these things are completely subjective, as is any review. I feel, however, that I would be doing a disservice to the author and other readers if I were anything less than honest. With that out of the way, let’s dive into this!

I want to start by saying that this was one of the most unique and engaging stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The detail that the author included was breathtaking in some places…but it was also distracting. I found myself having to reread passages (not for fun this time) to understand what exactly she was trying to say. The story became so bogged down with simile and metaphor that it almost became a chore to read. I felt like the story was suffering because of it. In places that, for me, needed more plot or horror elements, there were only comparisons. I was expecting more gore or jumpscares or intense moments, but was unfortunately left wanting.

The story centers around a Japanese yokai, the Ohaguro bettari. I won’t go into more detail to avoid certain story spoilers, but I will say that as someone who was entirely unfamiliar with the story before, it was a treat to read. Khaw did a spectacular job depicting the Ohaguro bettari. However, there was a much more sinister undertone to the creature than depicted in the description. I’m sure that was a stylistic choice to make the novella scarier, and it served the story well. There wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t excited to see what happened next.

In addition to the Ohaguro bettari, the main focus of the story is a group of friends, with the narrator and protagonist being Cat. She is almost instantly classified as an unreliable narrator because of her mental health issues. She refers to being hospitalized for a suicide attempt and then a severely depressive recovery stint where she isolated herself and didn’t speak to her friends for months. I’m not sure if making her an unreliable narrator was intentional on Khaw’s part, but this happened only toward the beginning. Once the Ohaguro bettari and her yokai minions are revealed, Cat is no longer questioning what she sees or her own judgement. She cements herself as a woman determined to survive despite the temptation to give in.

Recently, I was hospitalized for the first time due to severe suicidal ideation. Reading about this character’s struggles felt almost cathartic for me. So much of my experience and illness was reflected in Cat and I almost teared up at a few points during my readthrough. I wanted to reach through my husband’s Kindle and tell her to survive. Damn the other characters, she had to live.

Despite these feelings, I found myself surprised by the ending. I read this novella three days ago, and I’m still not entirely sure if I like the choices Khaw made. On one hand, the works I’m familiar with are full of tropes that I feel are there for a reason. On the other, I don’t see how it could have ended any other way and still have been a good story. I felt like Khaw wanted to take certain tropes that have been established and turn them on their heads. I completely support this, even if I don’t necessarily agree with this particular choice. It has certainly caused a lot of conversation (never a bad thing) on the craft between my husband and I and has given me a lot to think about in my own writing.

The other characters, as a whole, were well thought-out. They felt like real people, living lives and making decisions of their own. There wasn’t an instance where I felt like characterization was lost, despite the overuse of purple prose. I had characters I liked and one in particular that I severely disliked. But, she was kind of a foil for Cat, so it made sense for me to dislike her. It was the way she was written. In addition, I think Khaw did a really excellent job showcasing the tension between the characters, even if it wasn’t entirely spooky. Their conflicts were just as important to the story as the yokai and it was made the better for it. I still wish it had been a little scarier, but it was still an enjoyable read.

What I want readers to take away from this review is that everything is subjective. What I disliked about this story, others have praised. I don’t want this review to discourage anyone from reading the story when it releases. It was good, just not my cup of tea. As a community, we HAVE to support our female and POC authors. Please, please, buy this book. Read it. Then, let’s talk about it!
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TW: gore, body horror

Maybe it’s odd to say that this novella was a wonderful treat given its content, but let’s be honest here. It was a wonderful treat. The writing was gorgeous and I truly felt like I was in the story. The beginning confusion of the dynamics of the friend group slowly being unraveled as the story gets darker and darker was easily my favorite part. I can’t even begin to explain how I felt. And then the ending was just the cherry on top. Just the right amount of shock and blood. Amazing.
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What happens when a group of friends choose to have an intimate wedding ceremony in a beautiful, haunted house!?!

Cassandra Khaw’s writing is hauntingly lyrical and infused with Japanese folklore.

I absolutely loved the Japanese folklore woven throughout this novella; however, I was not a fan of the lyrical writing style. Instead of complementing the horrific atmosphere, it sucked me out of it. Regardless, it was horrifyingly creepy, and I would love to see it brought to life on screen.

Thank you to #netgalley and #nightfire for the e-arc!
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There were some mixed feelings on this book. There was so much descriptive language that the horror gets lost in it. We discuss it more in the latest episode of the podcast (see Season 5 Episode 3).
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I'm a huge fan of Japanese horror and the cover alone gave me very high hopes for this one but in the end a lack of solid character development and an even more detrimental lack of a concrete plot left me way more confused about what in the hell was even going on then scared or particularly moved.

Idiosyncratic violence and terror are sort of hallmarks of Japanese horror. Movies like "The Grudge" and "Ringu" worry far less about how we got where we got then they do about scaring the shit out of you with a bone white little boy hanging from the ceiling screaming at you like a rabid bat. So I was prepared for a certain lack of firm world building. I think the problem is that's harder to sell in literary form.

We are thrown, flailing and blind, straight in to the deep end of the pool with five friends gathering at a huge, desiccated corpse of a mansion somewhere in an isolated Japanese forest. They're there apparently because two of the friends are getting married and, for reasons that are never explained in any kind of satisfactory way, the bride has always dreamed of being married in a haunted mansion.

We're never really placed on any firmer footing than that. Our narrator is an ambiguously mentally unwell queer woman who's recently had some sort of breakdown but, again, its never explained what happened to her. She and the bride hate each other because she encouraged the groom, her best friend, to break up with the bride when they were going through a rough patch. A LOT is made of this particular point but, again, it doesn't seem to really mean anything. A couple of the guys also don't get along, one of them is really rich, the groom is apparently marrying way up because he's kind of fugly, one of them is a really good cook. I don't know we just get served this sort of grab bag of character traits and snippets of relationships that have no foundation in anything concrete.

The weirdest thing to me is that we're apparently in a world where Japanese horror films are a thing because they get referenced periodically but we're also in a world where Yokai (Japanese spirits) are a real thing because when things go sideways, abruptly and very dramatically, everyone rolls with it. We're abruptly handed some rules that never existed up to this point that will "save" those who need saving and there's an unnecessary and rather silly murder that everyone just accepts as something that happens in these sorts of situations and then its all over.

Its a shame because author Cassandra Khaw has a genuinely lovely style and a gift for atmosphere that could have really drawn me in had I had more time to sit with it. This is a novella that needed to be a novel. I needed to have more of a sense of who these people were, what the hell they were doing in this house and who they were to each other. It just wasn't enough to go "oh well the poorer less connected guy hates the rich guy." To be completely fair there are some truly haunting moments. I was particularly taken with the paintings that fill the mansions walls of the hundreds of different Yokai and I loved the idea that they are actual spirits observing our hapless band of revelers. Again, we don't get enough time with them for any true horror to really land.

I loved the Yokai and the idea of this haunted mansion with a tragic story at its heart still trying to get to a happy ending but I didn't get a chance to enjoy it long enough before everything turns into a slasher film.
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Well this novella certainly packs a punch! I know it's a bit early to review a book that comes out in October, but I couldn't resist after reading the description.

"Nothing But Blackened Teeth" was fun, fresh, & spooky, this will be the perfect read for anyone looking for a quick thrill! I really enjoyed all of the Japanese folklore elements present here - I made sure to look everything up, something that helped enhance the way I was picturing the events in the novella. The ohaguro bettari was truly a frightening presence & I just loved how creepy the atmosphere was the entire way through. Also, huge shoutout for queer rep here - a bisexual Chinese female lead, we need more of this in horror! My one critique is that this is a bit wordy at times - there's a ton of metaphors & some of them didn't really work well for me, but the story & pacing were so strong it didn't really bother me much.

I'll be revisiting this review closer to pub day, but I'd highly encourage everyone to put this on their radar - this will be perfect come October! Thank you so much to Cassandra Khaw, NetGalley, & Tor Nightfire for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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“This is the problem with horror movies: Everyone knows what’s coming next but actions have momentum, every decision an equal and justified reaction. Just because you know you should, doesn’t mean that you can, stop.”

An ancient house from the Heian era, haunted by the walled-up corpses of a hundred brides. An expensive trip—a wedding gift—with plenty of booze, food, and ghost stories to tell. A thrill-seeking couple who wants to get married in that very house, surrounded by their closest friends. What could go wrong?

If Nothing but Blackened Teeth is on your radar, you are in for a ride. Cassandra Khaw, author of Hammers on Bone and These Deathless Bones, brings us this brilliant novella full of psychological horror, guts, and teeth. Thoroughly immersed in Japanese folklore, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is not only a ghost story, but also a fascinatingly illustrative dive into the Japanese literary tradition of the kaidan, as well as its myths, legends, and supernatural spirits. Following the ancient ritual of the Hyakumonogatari Kaidan, where samurais lit a hundred candles for a hundred ghost stories, Nothing but Blackened Teeth combines a hundred forms of horror in its 128 pages. Body horror, psychological horror, gore, lore, monsters, ghosts, and haunted houses, this is an absolute funhouse for the horror junkies.

A remarkable aspect of this novella is that its cultural references are not watered down to fit into the constrains of Western horror. This is magnificently unapologetic and offers the minimal explanation of terms and cultural references, so there is a gorgeous array of Japanese imagery and folklore for the unknowing reader to research and discover. Some allusions, such as the kitsune, the kappa or the tengu—the array of yōkai or malicious spirits that observe the protagonists every move—are easier to locate. Others, like the Ohaguro Bettari, are for some to uncover.

This also makes great use of the setting to create an oppressing, sinister atmosphere. The Henian house where the set of characters are meant to spend the night becomes almost a sentient entity with the passing of time. As our protagonists start to lose their sanity, we can observe how the house begins to breathe and stare and grow sharp, organic limbs to trick their minds and take a bite from their deepest fears and insecurities. But who is the ultimate orchestrator of such a nightmare? The house itself, the Ohaguro Bettari, or the secret feelings and grudges the five friends keep from each other?

All of these elements are tied up together by a gorgeous writing style that almost turns prose into poetry. Wielding the most colourful metaphors and elevated words, Khaw creates a gorgeous contrast between the daintiness of her narration and the raw harshness of the direction the plot takes. But the author doesn’t limit her prose to it, she also grabs the bull by the horns and uses the most predictable tropes of the horror genre to her advantage. In a twisted form of foreshadowing, constant horror film meta-references made by the characters themselves serve as red herrings that lead the reader on until it is too late. And this technique follows through until the climax of the story, where her wonderfully diverse cast of characters allows her to subvert one of the most common tropes of the genre—one that we will not mention to avoid major spoilers—and denounce the mistreatment of non-white characters in horror.

Even if short, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is feast for the senses. Deeply enriching, twisted, and deliciously dark, the upcoming novella is definitely worth the read. Let the Ohaguro Bettari and her army of yōkai sink their teeth into you, and try and see whether you’d be able to escape the Heian mansion alive. The adrenaline rush is definitely worth the attempt.
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This one started out a bit on the slow side and I got confused a few times because of the prose the writer uses.  Sometimes it was unnecessarily wordy that it verged on pretentious.   However, by the halfway point I really started getting into the story and a lot more was happening.  I think this is a worth a read if you are into gothic books and folklore from other countries.  

Also, this is the creepiest cover ever!
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Five friends gather for a destination wedding in Japan, and host the pre-wedding festivities in an abandoned and haunted house. This story was full of Japanese mythology. The writing was sharp and creepy. The story is tense and haunting and I loved every page!
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Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a horror novella about five friends (or should I say “friends”) that have decided that a crumbling heian era Japanese mansion is the perfect location for a wedding venue. Naturally nothing creepy happens and it all goes off without a hitch. Just kidding.

This novella was definitely one of my most anticipated reads for 2021. I’m fascinated by the heian era, all the way down to the tradition of teeth-blackening as mentioned in the title. I also love a good story of obnoxious people behaving obnoxiously in dire circumstances. This was definitely set up to be a winner. 

And for the most part it delivered! This book is teeming with atmosphere. I could see so many of its tableaus perfectly clearly. This amazed me because I’m not usually someone who actually pictures what I’m reading. With this one I could feel candles flickering over mirrors and smell ancient books rotting into nothing. There’s definitely one particular moment I’ll probably be seeing in my nightmares tonight. 

The length of this book always works in favor of its success. The writing will probably be called purple and I could see this style wearing out its welcome in a full-length novel. Here, though, I think it works. For me it was like drowning in the horror and ambience before it released me just in the nick of time. You might be disappointed if you read this for characterization or relationships. If you read this for the atmosphere, though, you’ll likely be satisfied.
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A very short novella about a Japanese Haunted House. I thought this book was very creepy and eerie. When I started reading I was waiting to try to figure out how the folklore was going to come into play. I think I would have appreciated the Japanese folklore more if I had some background info on the lore itself. However, without knowing the lore I still found the take chilling. It will be a great read for horror fans this spooky season.
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Over-written but still packs a punch. I wish that there was a little more meat on the bone here; more for a reader unfamiliar with the territory (specifically of Japanese folklore) to have any hand-hold. I was tired from reading a bunch of stuff for the last book I read and it turned out that this then exhausted me for this book. THAT SAID, there are some good spooky images and it flows in a flash -- even a moderate-pace reader can probably knock this out in a few days or less.
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Five (mostly) friends gather to hold the wedding of two of their own in a haunted house. The house is a Heian-era building where a bride died waiting for her groom, and girls were regularly sacrificed to the structure so she wouldn't be alone. On the first night of their arrival, they drink, celebrate, bicker, tell ghost stories, and soon find they aren't alone. The long dead bride is watching them, and she's excited for new people to play with. 

NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH thrums with ghostly terror, lyrical prose, and rich, messy themes to unearth. Cassandra Khaw is a master of literary horror, giving you enough to sink a shovel in but trusting you to dig deeper, bones and all, yourself. Every single line in the story is carefully chosen. The shortest description propels such precise imagery, often of things lurking in the shadows, that this is a novella best read with all the lights on. 

Part of the brilliance of NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH is how it teases, tells to an extent, but doesn't give every detail. For the 5 friends, we get tastes of what their relationships and backstories are. We know Cat, the protagonist, is still recovering from a dark, suicidal period. We know several of the friends have dated or been intimate with each other (and not everyone knows who has been with who). And we know some are spiteful, some are more honest than they should be, and some less so. But we don't know all the how's and the why's; rather, Khaw shows us how they feel, how their emotions have twisted and twined around each other, as that is often more important than the details. In a way, this mirrors the story of the bride, the girls, and the mansion. We have the basics, but what's left are the bare bones and the haunting emotions, the desperation and need to poke and prod, because reactions are better than the silence. 

Readers will find a stunning mix of physical horror, psychological terror, and prose as sharp as the smile of a ghost bride.
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NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

I seem to be one of the few that couldn't get into this book for whatever reason. I guess I'm more of a fan of gothic horror stories, because most contemporary ones fall flat on me. I will say that Khaw has a knack for writing dialogue, but I feel there was too much of it - when I got halfway through the rather short book, The ghost had only made one brief appearance - this time was instead filled by needless bickering amongst all of the characters. It reminded of why I was rooting for the Swedish death cult in Midsommar as they killed that cast off - none of the characters were very likable to me.
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A creepy and atmospheric short novel. The author is characterized by a detailed and resplendently rich style. Snarky and thoroughly modern.
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