Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich is a tale of horror and mystery that twists and extends the familiar tale of Faust.
The legend of Faust should be familiar to most: A man, bored with his life, makes a deal with the Devil. In exchange for his soul, Faust gains incredible knowledge and terrible powers.
In most tales, Faust is carried off to hell once his time is up, damned to eternal servitude under the Devil’s watchful eye.
Dawn Kurtagich goes beyond what we know about Faustian lore, building an extension to the legend that is both plausible and intriguing.
There are three women across three timelines who must bear the consequences of one man’s actions.
In 1583, it is Hermione, a bride determined to make the most of her new life and her new husband. In 1851, it’s Roan, an orphan to has been sent to a faraway place following her father’s sudden death. In the present day, it’s Zoey, who’s been obsessed with a mysterious house in Wales for as long as she can remember.
If the mountain on which Mill House sits is evil, what does that mean for the people who have made a home there?
As a fledgling horror enthusiast, I always get excited when I pick up a book in this genre that has been written by a woman. The voices feel fresh, and there are far fewer problematic stereotypes to suffer through. Dawn Kurtagich, author of The Dead House as well as And the Trees Crept In, is one of my favorites.
Not only is she a fantastic writer, but she uses words and images in a way so few authors do. In ergodic fiction, the text is not uniform. Some words may be bigger or smaller, they may fall down the page, or simply be written in a multitude of fonts. This all works together to psychologically impact you in a way normal text simply wouldn’t.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is probably the most famous example, but you can the same approach in more than one of Kurtagich’s novels.
Teeth in the Mist is incredibly dynamic, as it contains letters and symbols and pictures throughout. Some pages are completely black with white writing, while others are sprinkled with just a few words on them. Some are written like journal entries or appear as descriptions of footage taken off Zoey’s camera.
Seeing the text like this had the desired effect. I’d be afraid to turn some pages, for fear the words would be so much LOUDER in the next section. Or worse — they’d be quieter, just a tiny voice in the back of my head.
Teeth in the Mist is not quite as scary as And the Trees Crept In, but it’s certainly unsettling. When you read horror, just about anything goes and you can’t always predict how it’ll end. Sometimes everyone lives and there can be a happy ending. Other times, you won’t even get a sole survivor.
I won’t spoil which one Teeth in the Mist gives you.
All of this, and we haven’t even gotten to the actual plot yet!
The tension and suspense set in as soon as you open the book. Chapter 1 begins with Roan and you quickly become aware that something is very wrong with this entire situation — the mountain, being sent to a stranger’s house, her encounter with a man on the hillside. Roan is skeptical and smart. She’s also rebellious and determined to get to the bottom of whatever is going on inside Mill House.
The cast of characters surrounding her have their own unique quirks. Emma is an Irish firecracker while her brother Seamus is quiet and sweet. Rapley is gruff but magnetic, while the owner of the house, Dr. Maudley, is equal parts inviting and inscrutable. Jenny, Andrew, Mrs. Goode, and Cage round out the ensemble, each adding another layer to the mystery.
Roan is at the heart of the book. It’s where Hermione’s story leads and where Zoey’s answers lay. We’re meant to root for Roan, to like her, but there is still something distant about her character. She’s a little cold, a little removed from everyone. Her chapters are written in the third person, and while we are aware of what is going on inside her head, it doesn’t change the fact that she appears to be wrapped up in something terrible.
Meanwhile, we become much more familiar with Hermione and Zoey. For the former, we see the origins of this tale through her diary. For the latter, we witness the story’s ultimate repercussions through her notes and the footage from her camera. Everything written down is in the first person, and so we immediately feel closer to both of these women.
But there’s something a little off with them, too. During Hermione’s time, men keep disappearing while her husband feverishly insists they continue to build Mill House on what’s considered a cursed mountain. Zoey finds herself attracted to Mill House’s ruins, and even when she realizes something is toying with her, she is determined to continue on.
While we don’t see much of Hermione throughout the book, Zoey is an easy narrator to love. She’s a modern, relatable girl. Her relationship with her best friend Poulton does as good a job of showing us what kind of person she is as her reactions to Mill House. She is equally as rebellious as Roan, though perhaps a little more outspoken about it. Something tells me they would get along.
Representation matters. Almost all of the most integral characters in this book women, and two of them fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Meanwhile, Seamus makes his way through life in a wheelchair. All the characters seem to be more than just the diversity boxes they tick off, and each of them is multi-faceted and crucial to the plot.
If you’re looking for a horror novel that’s more disconcerting than straight up terrifying, Teeth in the Mist is a good place to start. You won’t feel the need to sleep with your lights on, but you will pay a little closer attention to all the noises your house makes in the middle of the night.
This one is good for people who like creepy houses, Faustian tales, magic, historical fiction, kickass women, or just want something a little different.