Entity Seeking Human: A Review of Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
I hope you all enjoyed the return of Our Lord and Savior Edgar Allan Poe on the 1st. Thank you all once again for celebrating two whole years of Reading Has Ruined My Life with me. And thank you for coming back so soon! It’s the first Wednesday of 2022, and we’re continuing with the spooky vibes with a review on Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw.
Full disclosure, I’m obsessed with Cassandra Khaw’s writing. If you’re a long term reader, then you may remember when I reviewed Khaw’s novella Hammers on Bone back at the start of RHRML's life, and if so then you may remember that I couldn’t stop talking about how amazed I was by it. I also just found out that there is a sequel to that piece which I shall shortly be ordering to devour; expect that review sometime this year. Today we are talking about Khaw’s latest piece though. Today is all about the centuries old ghost bride of Nothing But Blackened Teeth.
Yes, this book has a ghost bride, and guess what else it has?
It has a haunted house!!!!
Let’s start with the history of this haunted house. But before I do that, a spoiler alert is in order. You’ve been warned! Also a quick content warning. This book deals with ritual sacrifice and what I would call assisted suicide so please be aware of those things. Also, the main character mentions her past suicide attempts as well. Please be aware that this story deals with those topics and that they are pretty relevant to the text. Now onto the history.
A long standing mansion from the Heian-era still remains out in rural countryside of Japan. Centuries ago it was to be the setting of a lavish, beautiful wedding; except that wedding never happened. The groom never arrived having died along the way. After learning of her groom’s tragedy, the bride vowed she would wait for him forever. She talked her guests into burying her alive in the foundation of the mansion. Dressed in her bridal gown for all eternity, she would wait until her groom-to-be came for her and the two could live forever in wedded bliss.
Each year on the date of this would-be wedding, a young woman would be sacrificed to keep the bride company and calm. These young women would be sacrificed in the same manner in which the bride died. It is believed that there are thousands of corpses buried within the mansion’s foundation. At some point the human sacrifices were stopped and dolls were given instead, but the ghost story remains.
In the present day, five friends gain access to the mansion for a night of revelry and spooks. They come to the mansion to celebrate a marriage between two members of the group, but these friends have secrets and their relationships will be tested to the extreme. And don’t forget, this house comes complete with an entity seeking human.
Ugh, I don’t know where to start! This book is just so good! Seriously, Khaw’s prose is deliciously disturbing with imagery to keep readers up all night. There is not a single page that doesn’t have a detail that will freak readers out. There isn’t a single page where Khaw doesn’t chew the scenery with her prose either, but that’s beside my point. This novella is one that’s built on the creepy and eerie with tension slowly growing with each flip of the page until it’s rolling off the book and creates an ocean.
I wish the characters were as well done as the imagery. Personally, I found the group of our five intrepid “friends” annoying. They’re all pretending they still like one another even though they all hate each other. They also don't feel fully thought out. They’re all kinda stock characters that you find in horror films which I don't think was Khaw's intention. Let me describe them for you, Book Nerds.
Our unreliable narrator, Cat, has suffered from an undisclosed mental illness where she heard voices that led her to a suicide attempt. Now, she’s trying to get her life back together, back to “normal,” by attending this wedding in a haunted house. I only bring up her backstory because that’s her entire character. But, personally, I think the reason why her backstory is given is so readers know that she can’t be trusted as a narrator. Do not expect the rest of the characters to get that level of detail. Next up is Phillip, the rich kid who can do no wrong; probably because he’s a billionaire and can buy his way out of anything. Following Phillip are Faiz and Talia, our soon-to-be newlyweds. Now Faiz is a man who just wants to settle down, he doesn’t have much going on, he’s your run-of-the-mill guy. Talia is a very Type-A person and kinda a bitch. Finally, there is Lin who is this story’s comedic relief. These five ended up forming a group because they all enjoyed finding haunted locations and investigating them in their youth.
That’s pretty much the only backstory readers get on these characters, and the above is everything you need to know about them too. The secrets each person has do come to light as the story goes on. Mainly those secrets are that members of the group slept together but the others don’t know. Nothing major. The secrets aren’t what’s important though. The main thing readers need to know about this group is everyone hates each other! Talia hates Cat; Cat hates Talia. Faiz hates Philip because Philip is the definition of perfect, and probably because the latter is hella rich and can buy anything he'd ever want. Plus, Philip slept with Talia and the two are keeping it a secret from Faiz even though Talia wasn't with Faiz when she slept with Philip, and it's a whole big thing that the characters are making a big issue about even when there really isn't one. Oh, and Lin hates everyone but Cat. Animosity. Animosity everywhere.
Like I said, these secrets aren’t horrible and won't destroy "friendships" if found out. But our main players treat them that way. And the way these characters interact is grating. All they do is bicker! Now listen, I would be fine with this if it occurred solely once shit hits the fan. It makes sense in that scenario. If you’re being attacked by an evil entity, I would be concerned if you weren’t freaking out on others. But at the start of the novella? Not a good look. Constant bickering and shady comments right from the get-go are not fun to read.
But damn did Cassandra Khaw create a highly atmospheric horror novella. This story is fast-paced but agonizingly slow. I say that in the best, nicest way possible. The atmosphere, tension, and even the gore at the end of the novella, certainly made my skin crawl. I didn’t want to put this book down. It’s a short read being only 124 pages long, but it engrossed me right from the start.
Now, I have another warning/something I feel I should mention. The following is not an issue for me, but I know this is a bother for other people. Cassandra Khaw uses a lot of terms that are relevant to Japanese folklore and traditions. Khaw also uses a lot of big words that aren’t often used in general. Google may be a reader’s best friend when it comes to Nothing But Blackened Teeth. As I said, this isn’t an issue for me. I enjoy learning new things, especially about other cultures, and words. But I have seen complaints about this novella’s vocabulary all over the internet. Take that as you will.
And on that note, I must bid you all adieu. I shall see you next week with a very special review. I look forward to seeing you soon.
Until next time, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.