At the top of Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth (Tor Nightfire), five friends have just arrived at a decaying mansion in rural Japan for a wedding. A strange setting for such an affair, to be sure, but not for this group. While other crews might vacation on sandy beaches or snowy mountains, these five friends are connected through their mutual love of ghost hunting. So all-consuming is this interest that two of their cohort, Faiz and Nadia, have decided to make their union official in this ancient Heian-era building. Thankfully, the wealthy and white Phillip was only too happy to foot the bill.
For protagonist, Cat, this trip marks her reentry into society after an extended hospitalization for an otherwise unnamed bout of ennui. Even though Cat agreed to the trip, she can’t quite shake the discomfort of being thrust back into a world that kept moving on without her. Her best friend, Faiz, seems changed; his fiance Nadia can barely stand to be in the same room with her. Even the near-perfect Phillip and always affable Lin seem uneasy around her—unable to get over their past transgressions, whatever they may be. Although it’s never discussed directly, it’s clear from the friends’ interactions that their shared history is fraught with failed relationships, hookups, and unspoken hurt. Khaw, however, isn’t interested in elaborating on these aspects of the story. Instead, Nothing But Blackened Teeth prefers to keep its focus squarely on the inevitable haunting. And in that regard, Khaw delivers nicely.
At its core, Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a literary exercise in haunting prose. Khaw’s poetic style mesmerizes the reader as her precisely chosen similes flow past the eyes like a refreshing steam in a forest of lush metaphor. Khaw wants to tell a story, but she’s far more interested in ensuring the reader feels it. Every sensation and interaction is detailed with such keen description that it’s impossible not to feel yourself getting sucked into her world. But this attention to analogy isn’t without its drawbacks. Khaw’s deeply poetic style may cause some readers to lose track of the action in some places.
If you’re looking for something to break up the never ending parade of monsters, gore, and plot-driven pop-fic, take a step off the beaten path and pick up Nothing But Blackened Teeth and experience something as fresh as it is fearsome.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth publishes October 19, 2021 from Tor Nightfire.
Looking for more haunting stories? Don’t miss The House Next Door.