Empty Smiles: Who loves creepy clowns? (ME!)

Small Spaces (Small Spaces, book 1)
Dead Voiced (Small Spaces, book 2)
Dark Waters (Small Spaces, book 3)

Empty Smiles (Small Spaces, book 4)
By: Katherine Arden
My Rating: Four out of five stars
Best for: 12 and up

Those clowns are the creepiest of all!

I know Katherine Arden best from The Winternight Trilogy, her fantastic historical fantasy series set in long ago Russia. It’s a wonderful story, full of amazing characters, connections to myths and traditions, and while it’s not a scare story…there are some legit moments throughout when you won’t want to be reading alone in the dark.

That little intro is to say: Katherine Arden knows how to be creepy! The real proof is in this fun middle grade series that began with Small Spaces back in 2018, continued with Dead Voices in 2019, Dark Waters in 2021, and (finally!) Empty Smiles in 2022. In the spirit of RL Stine, these books are intentionally, purposely, skillfully, and truly spooky! I was impressed with Small Spaces. I was freaked out by Dead Voices. I was surprised by the story in Dark Waters. I was really and truly creeped out by Empty Smiles!

I was surprised by Small Spaces–a middle-grade story that actually made me want to read with the light on. In that first book, our hero’s 6th grade class goes on a Fall field trip to enjoy a corn maze–only to discover the farm is cursed and the terrible rotter called The Smiling Man is pulling all the strings. I’m never, ever going to look at scarecrows the same way again. In Dead Voices, our heroes confront the ghosts hiding in a haunted orphanage-turned- ski lodged while trapped during a winter snow storm. Deep Waters, set on a boat in the springtime, was unexpected. It wasn’t quite the scare fest of Dead Voices, but I loved the direction the story took when the kids and their parents are shipwrecked and marooned on a mysterious island that doesn’t show up on any maps. On the island it’s just them, a creepy guy with an axe, and a giant lake monster who sinks boats in the lake and hunts people on land. PLUS…

I didn’t expect that giant cliffhanger that had me beyond anxious for book 4, Empty Smiles!

Now that I’ve read Empty Smiles and finished the series, I can say definitely Katherine Arden knows her stuff when it comes to spooky and scary. Those clowns were truly unnerving! My only complaint: the conflict ended abruptly in book 4, and we didn’t get the grand confrontation I was hoping for. But it did end well, and that’s the big deal. If you’re looking to for good, clean, creepy fun, you’re going to enjoy the Small Spaces series!

Aside from the spookiness, there are no content concerns. The entire series is perfect for brave 12 year old’s and up.

Happy Reading!

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