Sorry but this was just a solid 3 stars. I think the biggest issue is that Arden tried to rewrite The Smiling Man and based on the first book in the quartet it never squared. We also didn’t get a lot of time with our trio of Ollie, Coco, and Brian together. The ending also just felt very rushed. Finally, the whole book was pretty short. I got to the 80 something mark and the remaining part of the book was excerpts from the first three books.
“Empty Smiles” is the fourth and last book in the Small Spaces quartet. It’s been a couple of months since Ollie did a deal with the Smiling Man and left her dad and friends. She’s now on a train that never seems to stop with the Smiling Man and playing chess with him. When they do get to a stop, a carnival sets up that has dark secrets of its own. The Smiling Man keeps getting Ollie to agree to stay forever, but she wants to play the game with her friends getting a chance to save her. And back with Brian and Coco, all the adults believe that Ollie died. But Brian, Coco, and Phil, are at the ready to save Ollie when the chance comes. When a missing boy is found in water near them, it appears that The Smiling Man is setting up his final game for the kids to play.
So I think if anything this should have been Phil’s story. Instead we follow Ollie, Brian, and Coco. With Phil kind of there and jealous about the friendship of the other three. And the adults are done with the kids hiding secrets. And there is some movement there with that, but not enough for me to give this higher than three stars. Also, bad guys can just be bad guys. It’s something Stephen King understands quite well.
The writing was fine, but the book felt a bit like I was reading in place. Nothing much happens. We are supposed to have feelings or something for The Smiling Man and I was like why. I think the first book in the series was the best and everything else has been not even come close.
I thought the creepy carnival with scary clowns was quite scary, but how does this even line up with the secret places we found out The Smiling Man was involved with in three other books?
Finally, the ending was what honestly made me drop this thing down two stars. There’s all this build up with no explanation about anything. Who is The Smiling Man? Why did he want to play games so badly? Why was he so fixated on Ollie? What happens with the other places/people he kidnapped and turned into whatever he did? Why did everyone but just four of the kids forget everything? I just legit when bah when I finished this installment. I don’t know if Arden just didn’t know how to finish this or what, but honestly this was a big disappointment.