For Ages
8 to 12

Spellbinders: Break the Game is a part of the Spellbinders collection.

It takes more than magic to make a hero, in the next installment of this hilarious and epic illustrated series. One not-so-chosen champion and his mystical friends must cross the multiverse and harness a dangerous power to defeat a mysterious new enemy.

"My favorite new fantasy series.”
—Max Brallier, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Last Kids on Earth series

After leveling up from basement roleplaying games to saving an entire magical realm, 12-year-old Ben isn’t happy returning to his ordinary life of homework and chores. So when his very un-magical LARP session is crashed by monstrous frog-men from another dimension, he can't wait to get back into hero mode.

Someone is after all the Spellbinder’s books, which grant the users — including Ben — epic reality-shifting powers. Ben, Niara, Merv, Drake, and their new friend Agnes must embark on an epic quest to save the books and their owners. But while hopping across different realms may be Ben’s idea of a totally awesome spring break, it’s tough to be an ordinary kid among extraordinary heroes. Especially when fighting for the fate of the universe seems to consist mostly of finding fun new ways to get them all killed, from zombie rats to pool noodle squids, to a mysterious Big Bad controlling everything from behind the scenes. How do you win the game when someone else is rolling the dice?

An Excerpt fromSpellbinders: Break the Game



“Butternut squash!”

Behind a rotted old tree stump, Ben Whitlock, Spellbinder Level 2 and tenor in the middle school glee club, prepared to meet his doom. His death would be fast, and it would most certainly be messy, but that didn’t mean he’d go down without a fight.

“I’m too cute to die!” Ben’s friend Merv squealed, hunching against the trunk of a tree as two blasts of magic whipped overhead. “Where’s Agnes? She said she’d cover our attack.”

“Agnes had to go put on more sunblock,” Ben said.

“Why does she need sunblock? It’s raining.”

“She has very sensitive skin.”

“Couldn’t she have waited for, like, two minutes? What did she say?”

“Something about SPF.”

“What’s SPF?”


More spells flashed by overhead, crashing into the nearby trees and bushes. It sounded like the whole forest was falling down around them. Hidden in the safety of the drizzling mist, their enemies, a band of ruthless mercenaries called the Circle of Souls, smacked the blades of their swords together, filling the air with the terrifying drumbeat of war.

Taking a deep breath, Ben summoned his bravery. He’d faced bigger threats before and survived with all his bits and pieces intact. What was one more band of raiders? In one hand he held a small, curved war hammer, and in the other he held his phone, which for all its cool apps and great screen resolution turned out to be pretty useless in battle.

“We need a new plan,” he said.

“I like our current plan,” Merv said.

“Hiding behind a stump is not a plan.”

“What if we hide behind a rock? Or a ridge? Or a log?”

“Stop listing things to hide behind!”

“Can’t we just give up and go home?” Merv asked, ducking behind cover as arrows whistled past.

Ben shook his head. “Never. We’ll fight to the very end.”

“I liked you better when you ran away from a fight,” Merv grumbled.

Gradually, the volley of arrows ended with a few final shots that plonked off what was left of the wet stump. Then, silence. A cool breeze swept through the trees and shook the branches.

Ben lifted a finger. “Wait! Listen! They’re planning something.”

“Are they planning to hide behind a stump, like us?”

Ben growled. “I should just use you as a human shield.”

“Too bad I’m not human,” Merv said with a wink.


Always eager to rush into battle, even when he probably shouldn’t, this courageous Earthling has a head for lore and a loyal heart. Formerly the Chosen One of Lux, he is now known as “Mr. Whitlock” by teachers and “Hey, You!” by other kids at school.

• CLASS: Spellbinder

• FACTION: The Four Squires (placeholder)

• ALIGNMENT: Merciful Neutral

• ABILITIES: Spellcasting, Allowance +2, Game Mastery

• SPECIAL MOVES: Double Thumbs-Up, Advanced Uncomfortable Silence

It was true; Merv wasn’t human. They were a creature called a mimir from another world, and they could change their physical appearance at will . . . and they could also get on Ben’s nerves like nobody else. They snored, sang all the wrong lyrics to pop songs (“for stew, I’d eat a cheesy fry,” instead of “from you, I need a squeeze goodbye”), and, worst of all, they always borrowed his gym shorts and stretched out the elastic waistbands so they fell down whenever he put them on.

Despite how much of a pain they could be, Ben adored Merv, and he was proud to call them his best friend, roommate, and companion in all sorts of everyday adventures, from raking the yard to running from mercenaries who worshipped a cosmic spider named Aracnus.

A shout erupted from the brush. “Dagash, monanthus, treyar!” It was followed by a chorus of other voices: “DAGASH! MONANTHUS! TREYAR!” Soon the words became a chant that filled the rainy forest.

Ben rolled his eyes. “Great! Now they’re starting a creepy chant. Who knows what it’s going to do?”

“Don’t blame me,” Merv said. “I tried to convince you to stay home. I wanted to binge-watch Total Housewives, but no, you had to fight an epic battle.”

“Where’s Agnes?” Ben grumbled.

“Who cares?” Merv said. “Agnes isn’t helpful in a fight. Remember last time? First, she morphed your head into a wiener dog, and then she healed all the members of the enemy party by accident. We got slaughtered!”

Ben bit back his reply. Merv was right, of course. Agnes had proven herself to be about as useless as a box of expired batteries. Not for lack of trying. He’d never met anybody so eager and willing to help out, but so surprisingly bad at it.

“We need to flank them,” he said, stealing a glimpse over the gnarled roots of the stump. The enemy flitted among the trees, chanting prayers to their twisted bug god. “What if you changed?”

Merv pouted. “What do you mean? I like who I am. It’s taken a long time for me to feel comfortable with myself and--”

“No, you goober,” Ben snapped. “What if you changed your appearance so you looked like one of them, in Circle of Souls armor? Then maybe you can get around behind their battle line, and, surprise, you get the drop on them.”

“Here’s an idea,” Merv said. “We admit to ourselves that we’re outmatched and leave battles like this to the real heroes. Then it’s twenty-four-seven pj’s and pizza!”

“Disgraceful,” Ben grumbled. “And you call yourself a magical creature from another dimension. After everything we’ve done to get this far, you just want to walk away and let those jerks win?”

Merv shrugged. “I hate to be the one to tell you this, buddy, but we’re not heroes. And your Quest Master days are over.”

Their words stung because they were true.

All his life, Ben had wanted to be a great warrior who went on dangerous quests and fought the forces of evil, hoping to earn his place as a hero of myth and legend. Unfortunately, he lived in the suburbs, and opportunities to go on epic adventures didn’t come along very often. All that had changed last year, when he stumbled into the magical realm of Lux, where he’d been mistaken for its Chosen One, a long-awaited figure who was meant to bring about a new era of peace and enlightenment. Instead, he’d done a lot of property damage and undermined Lux’s biggest religion. His journey through Lux had been the most exciting time of his life, but after every­thing was said and done, he’d come back home again. To school. To laundry. To pop-up ads and pollution. These days, he dreamed of escape more than ever.

A husky voice rose from the tangle of shrubs high on the hillside. “Your resistance is futile. Surrender now, and we shall show you mercy! We will allow your bodies to host the larvae of roach pups!”

“See, that doesn’t sound so bad,” Merv said. “Roach pups! Cute!”

“Your souls, however, are a different matter. They will be sacrificed to our dark lady, the undead Aracnus, queen of the spiderlings and High Goddess of the Poison Court!” There was some intense whispered discussion, and then a second voice added, “And your eyes, we’ll need your eyes too! She likes the eyes!”

Ben looked at Merv, and Merv looked at Ben, and the two made an unspoken decision. After three months together, they’d developed the ability to hold almost entire conversations in complete silence, as all best friends do. “Fine, you jerks, you win!” Ben yelled, stepping into the open, arms raised. He flung his war hammer to the wet grass in front of him and unbuckled his sorcerer’s supply belt, tossing it aside.

“Yes, we surrender!” Merv yelled, joining him, arms over their head. “Can we go home now?”

Three black-armored mercenaries in horned helmets shuffled from the trees, looking like beetles walking on their hind legs. The leader, a tall guy with a jeweled scepter, made straight for Ben. Clearly, this was the Circle of Soul’s notorious war captain, Skreel the Pungent.

“So, we meet at last, Sir Ben,” Skreel said, casting a glance around the forest. “Where’s the third member of your party? Is she waiting to spring a surprise attack?”

“Agnes is probably hydrating,” Merv said. “Or looking for more hand sanitizer.”

Skreel sneered. “I’ve been after you twerps for weeks, and somehow you’ve managed to escape every time. But not today.”

“Yeah, fine, whatever,” Ben said. “You win. Can you take us prisoner now?”

“Sorry,” Skreel chuckled. “We don’t take prisoners.” Then he pointed at them with his jeweled scepter. “Execute this scum.”

“Wait a second!” Ben shouted, but he was too late.

A hulking mercenary advanced, whirling his huge sword with creeptastic glee.

Ben felt a surge of panic as he stared death in the face. He hadn’t expected it to end like this, not at the feet of a bunch of bullies like the Circle of Souls. He’d always pictured himself going out like a true hero, maybe standing atop a perilous cliff and facing down an endless horde of slobbering werewolves with nothing but an oversized dinosaur bone. Or trapped inside a video game that had grown self-aware and tried to rewrite reality’s code from the inside out. Certainly not on his knees in front of Skreel the Pungent, a guy who still needed his older sister to drive him to the park every Saturday. It was humiliating.

The executioner raised the broadsword high above his head.

“May your spirits find refuge in the web of Aracnus,” Skreel said, blessing them. “May your eyes nourish the damned.”

Ben closed his eyes and held his breath.

He heard the blade whistle through the air. . . .


The tip of the foam sword tapped the back of his neck.

“You’re dead, punk.”

Ben flopped to the damp grass and groaned. Seconds later, Merv joined him.

Their executioner, a kid named Trevor who worked stage crew at Sweet Air High School, raised the helmet to show his face. He was trying to grow a mustache and failing miserably, with an upper lip like a patch of dirty Velcro. Cackling, he sheathed his weapon and turned to rejoin the rest of the mercenaries. The Circle of Souls cheered triumphantly and beat their fists against their armored chests, howling to their creepy spider god.

“Tough luck, Whitlock,” Jason “Skreel” Mundus said with a chortle. “One of these days you’ll be a worthy challenge.” Then, with a rallying cry of DAGASH! MONANTHUS! TREYAR! he led his party away to hunt the remaining LARPers hidden in the overgrown forests of Tuna State Park.

As Ben watched them go, the weight of the loss settled over him. Just a few months ago he’d saved a fantasy world from the clutches of a mad wizard. Now he couldn’t even defeat a squad of tenth-grade mercenaries in homemade costumes. He stared at the leafy canopy overhead and tried to find the energy to get back up.

What kind of hero was only a hero sometimes?

After a while, Merv stood and peeled off their headband, revealing the two slightly pointy ears that stuck up from their silvery hair. They extended a hand. “On your feet, Sir Ben of Sweet Air.”

Ben wanted to stay grumpy, but he couldn’t help but return Merv’s impish smile. Time and again, his friend showcased an incredible ability to lift his spirits even in the darkest moments. The mimir’s good humor was almost as magical as their power to change their appearance whenever they felt like it. After their exploits in Lux, Merv, who was an orphan, had moved in with Ben and his mom in their two-bedroom apartment, posing as an exchange student. Life with them made everything better.

“Well, that was embarrassing,” Ben said, craning his neck so he could see the back of his pants. “Do I have any leftover spell on my butt?”

“No, you’re good,” Merv said.

After gathering their weapons and gear, they retraced their steps to Picnic Area 8, a patch of overgrown grass that wound along the rocky shoreline of Lake Tuna. A bright midday sun peeked out from behind the clouds and the gray drizzle trickled to a stop. Ben and Merv plunked down at an empty picnic table to let their wet clothes start to dry.

The Sweet Air Protectors held events every Saturday in Tuna State Park, rain or shine. They were a recreational LARP, or live-action role playing, society that simulated adventures and battles in a fantasy world. Most of that time was spent drinking a lot of spiced cider in the “tavern,” a park shelter they rented for twenty-five dollars an hour, or telling jokes, and poking one another with foam swords. Since joining, Ben and Merv had played one prison break, a werewolf solstice festival, and a raid on a necromancer’s dungeon. In the meantime, they had made a lot of enemies but only one new friend: Agnes.

After nearly an hour of waiting, Agnes returned at last, pulling her small rolling suitcase behind her, white sunscreen slathered all over her face. She had her black hair wound into two long braids that swung back and forth as she walked.

“Hey, guys! What did I miss?” she asked.

“Only our total defeat at the hands of our enemies,” Ben grumbled.

“So, a pretty normal Saturday,” Merv added.

“Where did you go?” Ben asked. “We needed you!”

“I wanted to wash my hands,” Agnes said. “The necro curses made my skin all sticky. I think the bag was leaking.”

Ben and Merv didn’t know Agnes very well, and on the surface they didn’t have much in common, but when none of the other LARPers wanted to recruit her, they decided to give her a chance.

She unzipped her rolling suitcase and unpacked a picnic lunch, and while Ben handed out napkins, silverware, and paper plates, Merv spread the tablecloth. Then the three friends plopped down, shoulder to shoulder, on a blanket by the rocky shore of Lake Tuna and relaxed, listening to summer playlists on Ben’s phone. As the last of the storm clouds faded, a welcoming heat beat down on them, and sunlight turned the surface of the lake into a glittering sheet of silver.

Eyes closed, Ben fantasized about his Spellbinder’s book, the relic that had briefly given him the ability to conjure spells and change the world around him. Although he’d only known about these powers for a short time, he’d come to feel a connection to them, as if the notebook was just another part of his body.

Magic, however, was highly unpredictable, and Ben and the group had decided to stop using the notebook and stash it someplace safe until they could figure out what to do next. Until that day came, Niara and Drake, their two best warriors, had embarked on a quest to track down any other Spell­binders’ books that might lie scattered across the many realms.

It was a quest Ben desperately wanted to be on.

Under the Cover