October is in full swing and with it, the season for spooky reading! At the top of my October to-be-read list is the final book in Katherine Arden’s Small Spaces Quartet. This is by far my favorite horror for middle grade readers and among my overall favorites. In this series, Arden creates a scary story that is appropriate for younger readers and still chilling for an adult who has seen it all in the horror genre.
The series follows a group of middle school friends in rural Vermont as they face a mysterious, shape-shifting villain who exists beyond the mist. Two things are certain about the figure they call the smiling man: he loves games, and his power to conjure what you most desire comes at great cost to you.
Each encounter with the smiling man and his world beyond the mist brings new horrors. Scarecrows chase you when you’re not looking. Ghosts desperately search for their bones. Sea monsters lurk in the shadows. Arden adds atmospheric tension and very real concerns to fit the seasonal setting of each book. For example, in the wintry second book, the kids are trapped in a ski lodge during a snowstorm (classic!) and must face the smiling man through an unbearably long, dark, and cold night. Their socks are damp, their hands are numb, and they’re outmaneuvering a powerful supernatural entity!
While developing the unique, eerie realm beyond the mist, Arden balances it with warm, whimsical life in the real world, grounded in deep emotion and love. The kids’ realistic knowledge, skills, and teamwork allow them to outsmart the villain each time. Home-baked treats sustain them. They receive help from one character’s deceased mother via an inherited wristwatch. Through it all, their safe homes, caring community, and strong friendship hearten the group and keep the books fun and cozy.
The opening scenes of the fourth and final book, set in a summer carnival, promise a terrifying adventure ahead. The stakes are higher than ever, but the friends are more determined than ever to defeat the smiling man once and for all. I am thrilled to see what Arden has in store for this match.
Horror fans young and old alike are sure to get a chill up their spine as they travel beyond the mist and experience this delightfully spooky series for themselves.
What are you reading for the spooky season?