Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw (BOOK REVIEW) 2/5
I saw this book advertised as one of the must-read new releases for horror books, and immediately was intrigued. The quality cover art and the professionalism of the book drew me in and made me think that it was going to be a fantastic short horror read.
I was wrong, and in the end, this book thoroughly pissed me off. Now, let me preface this by saying that I am going to spoil this book in this review. Do not read on if you don’t want to be spoiled for this 125 page read. There’s no way for me to express my anger with this book without spoiling it.
Let me begin with the incredibly thick prose. Cassandra Khaw blows literary writers out of the water with her gaudy purple prose. I know there are people who enjoy this- the play on words and constant thesaurus use- but I am not one of them! I will accept an older classic with dense wording, but this is a modern novel, set in a modern age, and what is especially jarring is that the narration and description is so prose heavy- but the speech is not! The speech and dialogue between characters is painfully modern, filled with swearing and unnecessary one liners. On two pages, I counted five metaphors in one conversation alone, going back and forth to the point that the conversation grew muddled and it seemed like it was just a competition of who could sound more ridiculous. Often, the book was pretentious sounding and convoluted. Now, I looked up other stories by Ms. Khaw, and it seems this is just her style of writing- but in my opinion, it was horrifically overdone. And the swearing! Oh, the swearing. I can understand swearing in a novel when it’s called for, but the amount of the F word in this novel was just annoying. In a five page section, I counted it used twenty times- and not even out of fear, just out of normal conversation.
In fact, most of the character conversation was cause for eye rolling. I struggle with writing dialogue myself, but this novel was really difficult to get through just because of the characters alone. Several interactions had me groaning at how unrealistic and aggressive they were, with characters who bore horrid personalities. I could not imagine, for the life of me, why these people were friends. Several times throughout the novel, Cat and Faiz were noted to be best friends- and I couldn’t see why. Lin seemed to be the saving grace, he was the only likable character, and the only one with any sense. Even though the book told us why they were all there, there seemed to be little character motivation besides “just because”.
Because most of the character writing was a let down, I was looking forward to the monster- the Ohaguro-bettari, which I have never heard of before but was excited to see more of. However, halfway through the book, nothing had happened yet. Finally- at last- the yokai gets revealed… and then nothing happens. So, the legend of Ohaguro-bettari does say she’s a prankster, a yokai who tricks and doesn’t harm, or at least none that anyone knows of. But still, I was expecting more. Something solid, something scary. Instead, the charm of it quickly left, as it seemed to just be a prop, lingering around to cause a sense of eeriness.
If only that eeriness wasn’t ruined by the characters. Quickly, this turned from a genuinely spooky setting- to the show of idiots. I can’t even explain how much I disliked the ending of this book: It went from a classic horror with a folklore monster, to a thriller murder between friends? The idea of it just makes me angry. The quick end and easy solution, a death of convenience, a tidy wrap up and a social commentary final page.
Cat, the main character, had some history of mental health breakdowns- which was used more than once in the book as a reason why she went after her friends. But she came off so calm, cold, and clinical about the whole ordeal. All we got was a single section, an ironic narration of how she didn’t cry for her friend- though surely, she did- to show any reaction from her character at all. She felt like a blank slate that was just shoved in to move the story along.
Overall, this story was truly unsatisfying in my opinion. Between the prose, which made me constantly stop in awe of how unnecessarily thick it was for this story, and the awful characters- who could have had potential, had more care been given to them instead of the fancy speech- this novel was a true let down. I can see why people would be drawn in, as I was, with the beautiful cover and professional way it’s put together. But I think that the focus on pretty words and a monster that had no purpose, took away from the story it could have been, and the character depth I wanted more of. I wanted to love this book, my most anticipated horror read of this October, but instead I’m left with a nasty taste in my mouth- as if I, too, had nothing but blackened teeth.