Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

I always really, really want to like Cassandra Khaw’s work more than I do. Ngl, this desire is due in large part to the Malaysian connection, which is enforced in spades by the fact that the entire cast of this book is Malaysian as well!

Our five friends — after a fashion — converge on a haunted Japanese mansion because Nadia, the bride, always wanted to get married in a haunted house. So Philip, the richest of the crew, arranges for it to happen. The groom, Faiz, is half-Japanese and not entirely comfortable with Philip’s largesse, never mind the latter’s unsettlingly close relationship with Nadia.

The narrator, Cat, is Faiz’s best friend but has a much less congenial relationship with his fiancee. But at least Nadia was there for her when she had a mental and emotional breakdown, which can’t be said for the last of their group, Lin. Married and busy, he’s probably the person least enthusiastic about this entire wedding, not necessarily because of the people involved but because he’s sensible enough to know that getting married in a haunted house is a deeply stupid idea.

The rest of the gang discover this firsthand when the dead bride buried on the grounds decides she wants company. But is that really the reason that people disappear and reappear, or the real reason someone has to die?

It’s an interesting premise with a cool cast and some truly striking visual imagery. That latter is, unfortunately, a large part of the problem: this novella seems to be built more like a series of descriptions of things you can see, narrated by a bitter, drunk observer, rather than a lived-in haunted house experience. I could see what Cat saw but I barely felt anything of what she felt, besides anger and confusion. Certainly there was very little tension or suspense, just a brain dump of “this is what I saw.”

In fact, the experience of reading this horror story was like going through someone’s unedited, rambling journal. There’s an art to making that kind of thing interesting, but it just wasn’t present here. I’m really looking forward to reading more of Mx Khaw’s work tho. I bought a copy of their All-Consuming World and it’s on my very long list of things to read, along with Jeeyon Shim’s accompanying game. This novella definitely wasn’t the best of Mx Khaw’s work so far (or at least I hope it isn’t!)

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw was published October 19 2021 by Tor Nightfire and is available from all good booksellers, including

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