buddy read, horror, Middle Grade

Buddy Read & Rant #8: Dark Waters

Jonny: I’m Jonny, overworked grad student, author, and lover of all things macabre. You can check out some of my spooky stories here.

Iseult: Hi, I’m Iseult, indie author, book blogger, and cryptozoological oddity from Ireland’s ancient east. Click here to buy my books.

This buddy read and rant is for Dark Waters (Small Spaces #3) by Katherine Arden.


About the book:

Having met and outsmarted the smiling man in Dead Voices but fearful of when he’ll come again, Ollie, Brian, and Coco are anxiously searching for a way to defeat him once and for all. By staying together and avoiding remote places, they’ve steered clear of him so far but their constant worry and stress is taking a toll on their lives and friendship. So when Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mom plan a “fun” boat trip on Lake Champlain, the three are apprehensive to say the least. They haven’t had the best of luck on their recent trips and even worse their frenemy Phil is on the boat as well. But when a lake monster destroys their boat, they end up shipwrecked on a deserted island. This isn’t just any island though. It’s hidden from the outside world in a fog and unless everyone works together to find a way to escape, they won’t survive long.

Click here to buy the book on Amazon.


Iseult: Thank you for buddy reading Dark Waters with me, Jonny. I know you’re so busy.

I was so excited to read this book. I loved the first two in the series, and I expected lots of middle grade horror goodness third time around. I mean, look at that cover. That’s one creepy looking lake monster!

Jonny: No problem! Grad school is crazy, but I need my recreational book time or I’m gonna lose my mind, haha.

I agree with you that the first two books were exciting and fun and I have been looking forward to this for a while. Thanks for reminding me about the release date so we could do this.

The cover is definitely spooky. I avoid natural bodies of water like the plague and pretty much assume that there’s an evil creature like the one on the cover in each and every one.

So, did you enjoy this book overall?

Iseult: Yes! I am with you on natural bodies of water. That’s why I avoid venturing onto them too.

I’m really mixed about this book. Part of me feels very cheated by it. I thought it read like the opening to a longer book, perhaps a set up for book four, and wasn’t complete in itself. I also missed the spookiness and literary shout outs that the other books contained.

However, I found it a quick, easy read. I liked spending time with Ollie, Coco and Brian again, and there were lots of plot elements that I enjoyed.

Did you enjoy this book?

Jonny: Glad I’m not the only one. If the bottom feels slimy (it always does), it just freaks me out and I thrash around like a crazy person.

I agree with you 100%. There were some decent parts, but ultimately it wasn’t the best reading experience. We have a good intro to what the characters have been up to and are experiencing, but there’s not enough progression or adventure throughout to make it the fully rounded experience it needs to be. There wasn’t much spookiness that we’ve been accustomed to, and it made things not as enjoyable.

It was still easy to read, just less fulfilling.

What elements worked for you this time around?

Iseult: I liked that Brian was the point of view character, but I wish he had an important part to play in the book, just as Coco had in book two and Ollie in book one. I’m not sure why all three characters can’t share the point of view, in alternate chapters.

Paul’s inclusion was a nice call back to book one. Like with Brian’s POV, I loved the idea of him joining the gang, but I wasn’t satisfied with the execution.

I loved the black spot at the beginning of the book. Muppets Treasure Island is one of my favorite movies (and I like the original book too), and I was terrified by the idea of the black spot as a child. Of course, I used to think that it killed you in a paranormal way if someone handed it to you, rather than that it had the time and date written on it by the person coming to murder you. In Ireland, dangerous bends in the road with hidden junctions used to have “Danger! Black Spot Ahead!” signs, and child Iseult used to irritate her family with screaming “The black spot! We’re going to die!” every time she saw one. It made long cross country journeys SO fun!

What elements of Dark Waters worked for you?

Jonny: Good points!

I also liked that Brian was more present this time, but his role didn’t add significant meaning to it all. He wasn’t really going through anything and didn’t progress, and I didn’t feel the other characters did either. I agree that it would’ve been better if each character had their own chapter because there was some bleed through of perspective with Coco. Each book seems to have treated perspective differently in the structure and it’s a little confusing.

Sorry, trying to focus on the positive!

Paul was a welcome addition to the team for me too. It helped shed more light on the situation that started with the first book, and that our protagonists still have some things to learn. I’m not sure what he has to give to the team in the next book, but hopefully we’ll see more depth from him.

Oh, you definitely know more about the black spot than I do! I can totally see you freaking your parents out on roadtrips, haha! The black spot did add a nice element of mystery for the team to figure out, and it moved the story along, so I think that was a good job on the part of the author. I’m not privy to pirate stuff, but it was a nice surprise.

All right, time to brace for impact. What didn’t you like about the story?

Iseult: I hope you’re sitting comfortably, this might take a while.

(Takes big breath) We’ve both covered Brian and his lack of development. As you say, the other characters didn’t bring much to the story either.

There was a lot of the children’s parents in this book, and I wasn’t interested in them. They slowed the pace down and didn’t add anything to the action.

From the cover and the fact they were sailing on Lake Champlain, I expected monsters. I’m a huge fan of cryptids and know a lot about lake monsters, so I was excited for some lake monster fun. I was very VERY disappointed with the creature. I found it difficult to picture and it spent most of its time OUT OF THE WATER! Also, I don’t know about you, but silver and pink don’t strike fear and terror into me.

Most disappointing of all was that, after a long set up, the story was resolved without any cleverness on behalf of the main characters. Any character action pertinent to the story happens off page, and that combined with the cliff hanger ending, made me feel very cheated.

I’ve got my popcorn ready. Hit me with what didn’t work for you.

Jonny: You make a lot of fair points, and I can agree with pretty much everything you said.

For me, the main issue was that this book didn’t feel similar to the other two in the series in how things were handled. The strange island was an interesting concept and at first the lake monster seemed scary, but after its introduction it kind of lost the surprise element. There wasn’t enough about the monster that made it scary if that makes sense. Yes, it’s big and scary, but showing it constantly lurking doesn’t inspire fear after a while. The reader becomes desensitized.

Also, the other supernatural element of the crew of the Goblin was a bit underwhelming. It was something the protagonists could draw information from, but what we saw wasn’t particularly exciting, though the story behind it made sense. I would’ve liked to have seen that element amped up a bit more.

Tying these two underwhelming elements together, the meaning behind them is lost. Where does the Smiling Man fit into the lake monster or crew of the Goblin, or this island at all for that matter? We don’t know. It’s never revealed before the story ends, which is very frustrating.

Ollie seems to know something more to it all perhaps, but she never says anything and even though Brian questions what she is hiding several times, he never even bothers to ask. There was nothing holding him back from doing so, so why didn’t he? It just didn’t make sense.

They didn’t solve their dilemma with cunning like you said, and that was frustrating too, especially since that’s how they beat the bad guy in each book until this one.

Iseult: Beautifully put. I agree, it didn’t have any of the elements that I loved about the other two books – spooky, intriguing plots, mind games and intelligence to find a solution to the problem, the Smiling Man, the three friends working together.

I wonder if the publisher rushed Arden to produce this book. It lacks the depth of her other books and is so tonally different, I wonder if she was under pressure writing it.

Are you looking forward to the third, and supposedly final book? I guess each book covers a season, so the next book should be summer.

Jonny: Thanks!

There really is something lacking in this book, and I’m not sure if the pandemic made things more difficult, or if it maybe was lack of inspiration. It could be any number of things really, but I’m disappointed that the publisher let this book go through without the vital elements that were present in the other two books. It just isn’t as good.

Yeah, I’m still dedicated to reading this series through and exploring the final season of summer. Does this mean hellfire will rain down on our protagonists? I sure hope so, because that would be scary!

Iseult: Haha! Now, that would be a closing the series would a bang!

I’m not interested in reading the fourth book, but if you will buddy read it with me, I’m up for the challenge!

Jonny: One can only hope the last book does the series some justice.

It’s been something of a downhill trend with each book, and I wouldn’t want to read it without you either!

For now we can just let things breathe. I’m sure there will be plenty of new and exciting horror reads for us to consider by the time the next book comes out. 🙂

Iseult: It has been so great doing another buddy read with you. I’ve missed doing them, they’re always so much fun. I’ll be on the lookout for a good horror that we can read together.


I hope you enjoyed this Read & Rant. Don’t forget to check out Jonny’s review of Dark Waters (click on the names below).

Jonny’s review of Dark Waters.

Iseult’s review of Dark Waters.

If you liked this Read & Rant, why not go back and read our other discussions.

Buddy Read & Rant #1: The Upheaval

Buddy Read & Rant #2: Thornhill

Buddy Read & Rant #3: Shutter

Buddy Read & Rant #4: Small Spaces

Buddy Read & Rant #5: Dead Voices

Buddy Read & Rant #6: Until Summer Comes Around

Buddy Read & Rant #7: The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

5 thoughts on “Buddy Read & Rant #8: Dark Waters”

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