Bad Luck


By Pseudonymous Bosch

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The plot thickens in this New York Times-bestselling sequel to Bad Magic!

Some people have all the luck.

Unfortunately, Clay isn’t one of them: He’s the only camper at Earth Ranch without a magical talent. As if feeling totally useless isn’t enough, Clay has to figure out what to do about Brett, a castaway boy who has just washed ashore and is determined to keep his presence a secret. Even as Clay helps his new friend hide in the remote volcanic island’s wilderness, another fiery mystery begins to emerge, with all signs pointing to the impossible idea that dragons once roamed the island…and may still. Can Clay and his friends turn their luck around in time to uncover Price Island’s secrets–and save it from a scorching end?

Danger, adventure, mischief, mystery, old foes, new friends, and a delightfully elusive narrator make bestselling author Pseudonymous Bosch’s latest novel completely irresistible.


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The Imperial Conquest had five swimming pools, four gyms, a three-story waterslide, a two-lane bowling alley, an outdoor movie theater, a giant climbing wall, a miniature golf course, an ice-cream parlor, a pizza parlor, a sushi bar, a taco stand, a twenty-four-hour arcade, an eighteen-and-under dance club, an eighteen-and-over casino (that was a little lax about its age limit), a full-service spa, and a multi-floor luxury shopping mall, but so far the thing Brett liked best about this gigantic cruise ship was the Jell-O parfait at the Lido Deck Snack Shack.

Jell-O and whipped cream. It was the perfect combination. Sweet and tangy. Rich and soft. He couldn't believe it had taken all twelve long years of his life to discover it.

Eating slowly to make his parfait last, Brett waded through the sea of sunbathers. He was the only person around who was fully clothed, not to mention wearing a bow tie—sometime in the sixth grade, Brett had decided that bow ties would be his "signature accessory"—and as usual he got some funny looks.

A sunburned boy pointed at him. "Hey, penguin, wrong cruise—North Pole is the other way."

"You mean South Pole," Brett replied automatically. "No penguins in the North. Just… elves."

And next time, try a higher SPF, he thought. Lobster.

A woman squinted at him from behind her sunglasses. "Are you my waiter? Where's my drink?"

"I don't know," said Brett. "Maybe you drank it?"

By the way, I'm not your waiter; my dad owns this ship, he almost added. But she probably wouldn't have believed him anyway.

Even though it happened to be true.

All he wanted to do was return to his stateroom and eat his parfait in peace. Was that too much to ask? Well, maybe just one more bite before he—


He almost choked when the alarm sounded. Three high-pitched beeps so loud they made his head hurt.

Brett looked down in dismay—a dribble of green Jell-O had landed on his bow tie. He could barely see over his chin, but he wiped it away as best he could.

"This is your captain speaking," said a woman over the ship's intercom. Her voice had a distinctive accent—Australian, it sounded to Brett. A good sign, he thought. (Australia was the home of the Great Barrier Reef, and if she could navigate the world's biggest coral reef, she could probably navigate anywhere.* ) "Please report to your assigned muster room immediately. This is only a drill.…"

Brett's muster room, the Shooting Stars Nightclub and Casino, was five floors down. As Brett entered, still clutching his parfait glass, a uniformed crew member stood onstage, trying to entertain everyone with a less-than-successful rendition of Michael Jackson's "Beat It."

The crowd booed happily.

"Oh, so you guys think you can do better, huh?" said the crew member, pretending to be insulted. "Well, our karaoke contest is tomorrow night, right after the magic show!"

He nodded to the poster behind him. It showed a big pair of bunny ears sticking out of a top hat:



An Evening of Magic and Mystery

Another crew member, whose badge read MIGUEL, PHILIPPINES, scanned Brett's cruise ID card, and Brett saw his own image flash across a small video screen, along with the words VIP—ALL ACCESS.

Miguel looked down at the husky, overdressed twelve-year-old in front of him. If he was suspicious of Brett's VIP status, he didn't say anything about it.

"I was wondering, Miguel," said Brett. "Why do they call this a muster room? Is it because you have to muster your courage when the ship is sinking?"

"Sorry, sir. I have no idea."

Miguel didn't look sorry. In fact, he looked irritated. Brett often had this effect on people. He wasn't sure why.

"Well, if I were you, I would look it up," Brett said helpfully. "Mustering is your job, after all."*

Before Brett could find a place to sit, Brett senior walked over with his smiling young fiancée, Amber, in tow.

"Junior! What took you so long?" he bellowed loudly enough to cause people to turn. "Good thing there isn't a real emergency!"

Brett cringed in embarrassment. It looked as though his father had come straight from the pool; he was wearing an open shirt and one of his just-a-little-too-small bathing suits. A gold chain hung from his neck, snagging on his hairy chest. At his side, the always-sunny Amber was dressed in sparkly yellow workout clothing. It seemed to Brett that she had an entire rainbow's worth of yoga pants. Both his father and Amber wore life vests around their necks.

"Where's your vest? Never mind—" Brett's father turned to Amber, who was busy applying strawberry lip balm to her already balmy lips. "Can you grab him one, princess?"

"Of course, my knight."

My knight…? That was even worse than princess, Brett thought. Couldn't they keep their pet names private?

Amber picked up a vest from a pile and handed it to Brett. "Here, honey."

"Thanks, orange is my favorite color," he said, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. Amber had never been anything but nice to him—almost too nice—and yet he couldn't bring himself to like her.

Brett's father eyed the parfait glass in his hand. "Didn't you already have one of those Jell-O things this morning?"

"So? They're free."

"That's not the point. You haven't even had lunch yet. No wonder—" His father stopped himself before finishing his sentence.

"No wonder what?" Go on, thought Brett. Say it.

"Do you want to be like all the other overweight losers on this ship?" said his father, lowering his voice. He smiled broadly for the benefit of their fellow passengers.

"If that's how you feel, why did you buy this ship in the first place?" asked Brett, stung.

His father shrugged. "I like big things."

"Yeah, except for me," said Brett under his breath.

Brett senior's scalp reddened underneath his new hair plugs. "It doesn't matter whether I like you," he said, struggling to control his anger. "It only matters whether you like you."

Amber put one soothing hand on Brett's shoulder and one on his father's. "All your father is saying is that you need to take care of yourself," she cooed to Brett in her unnervingly sweet voice. "There are so many great exercise classes on the ship.… Pilates… Jazz-aerobics… Why don't you try one? Or at least go for a swim. Your father says you used to be a very strong swimmer."

"Yeah. Emphasis on used to be." Brett hadn't voluntarily taken his shirt off in public since he was ten. (Or, to be more exact, since the day Mitch Poll had started making fun of Brett's "boy boobs" at their class swim party.)

Mercifully, a neighboring passenger shushed them. A diagram of the ship was being projected onto a screen above the stage. Red circles were drawn around the lifeboats.

"In the unlikely event of an evacuation, you will be escorted to a tender. Do not attempt to board without a crew member.…"*

The emergency training session had begun.

Brett's father was always buying things: oil rigs, construction companies, sports teams. Still, Brett had been a little surprised when his father announced that he had bought a cruise line. As far as Brett could remember, his father had never expressed much interest in sea vessels or even the sea itself, outside of extracting oil from underneath it.

Why buy an entire fleet of cruise ships?

But what had really surprised Brett was that his father wanted to take him on a cruise. In the old days, when his mother was still alive, they'd traveled all the time, but his father rarely took Brett away for a weekend anymore, never mind a weeklong vacation. Brett now suspected Amber's influence. She might not care much about Brett one way or the other, but at least she had some idea about the way families were supposed to behave.

Unlike his father.

He hates me, Brett thought. He really hates me.

His father had practically admitted it to his face.

After quitting the muster room, Brett found himself back on the Lido Deck. Another parfait. It was the only answer to the terrible pit that had opened in his stomach. But when he reached the Snack Shack, it was closed. The dessert case was empty.

Now, this is an emergency, he thought.

As Brett considered his options—pizza? gelato? those twisty croissant-y things in the Tahiti Dining Room?—he noticed an open door next to the café. Inside was a gleaming stainless-steel world of counters and refrigerators and ovens and heat lamps. Standing in a corner, beckoning to Brett like a diamond necklace to a jewel thief, was a rolling rack stacked with Jell-O parfaits. Dozens of them. In every color. Each topped with a bright red maraschino cherry.

Glancing briefly at the STAFF ONLY sign, he walked straight through the door. The parfaits were free anyway, he reasoned. And if he got caught, well, his father owned the ship. Basically, he was stealing from himself.

He was in the middle of his second parfait—fourth if you counted the two he'd eaten earlier in the day—when a muffled noise caught his attention. It sounded like cars caught in traffic, honking and revving their motors, and it came from behind a steel door at the far end of the kitchen.

Above the door: a blinking red light and the words ACCESS RESTRICTED.

Ordinarily, Brett was a cautious fellow. True, he often spoke without thinking. He was especially bad at holding his tongue when he was being bullied (a twice-or thrice-daily occurrence). But when it came to serious risk taking, let's just say he preferred the comforts of a couch and a touch-screen device. Today was different. Maybe it was his anger at his father, maybe the Jell-O in his bloodstream, or maybe all that red dye in the cherries; whatever the reason, Brett felt bold and reckless. He inserted his all-access ID card into the slot.

Stepping through the door, he found himself at the top of a stairwell. At the bottom was an enormous storage area—a warehouse space that would have seemed large enough on land, let alone at sea—filled with boxes and crates of all shapes and sizes.

As soon as Brett walked in, he identified the source of the traffic sounds: not cars but animals. Live animals. Goats. Sheep. Pigs. Chickens. Even a few cows. All squeezed into pens. It looked as if an entire farmyard had been airlifted onto the ship.

It smelled like that, too.

Why animals on a cruise? For a petting zoo? Maybe a tableau vivant of Noah's Ark?* Brett didn't know anything about farming, but the animals sure didn't look happy.

Behind them sat a rusted steel shipping container the size of a city bus, with airholes drilled into its sides. Next to the shipping container was a rack of fire extinguishers, as well as a locked glass case filled with weapons—stun guns, spearguns, rifles—enough to take down a blue whale or a herd of elephants.

No, probably not a petting zoo.

Suddenly, he heard people entering the room, arguing.

Trying not to panic, Brett stepped behind the shipping container and listened. A woman was complaining that the ship's crew was unhappy about having live animals in the hold. "They're smelly and only encourage the vermin!" Brett recognized her voice from the intercom.

"Not your business, lady," a man growled. "This space is off-limits to everyone except Mr. Perry and the staff of Operation St. George."

Brett swallowed. Mr. Perry was his father, Brett senior. The man who was speaking sounded like Mack, the ex-boxer who worked as his father's bodyguard and chauffeur. Brett peeked around the corner: Sure enough, Mack was there, and Brett's father, too. (Thankfully, his father was now wearing a Hawaiian shirt and tan pants. Not a great look, but Brett preferred it to the bathing suit.) Walking with them was a tall woman in uniform.

"I'm the captain of this ship, you moron," she said, incensed. "No space is off-limits to me!"

"And I'm the owner of this ship," Brett's father reminded her. "Your employer."

"I am still responsible for two thousand passengers. Never mind a thousand crew members. What is this 'Operation St. George'?"

Brett stepped back out of view. He couldn't risk his father seeing him now. He'd had more than enough parental disapproval for one day. The container door was open. He slipped inside—

What the…?

Bolted to the floor were a half dozen iron chains attached to an equal number of manacles. The chains looked so heavy and barbaric that at first Brett was sure they were fake. He thought of the magic show that was supposed to take place the following night. Could the chains be props for a Houdini-style escape routine? Perhaps the entire container was a magician's set—a cage for a stage.

Maybe the farm animals were part of the show, too?

Then Brett spied the massive steel muzzle on the floor. Leaning in for a closer look, he accidentally brushed against one of the chains. It clanged loudly against the side of the container.


He held his breath. One… two… Silently, he counted to himself, as if he were waiting for a bomb to explode. Three… four… Had he averted discovery?



His father stared at him from the doorway, more furious than surprised.

"Um, hello," said Brett numbly.

The captain stepped up from behind Brett's father. "What in the world…?" Horrified, she stared not at Brett but at the contraption in front of his feet.

Brett glanced down again. The muzzle was a brutal piece of hardware, all right, made of steel thick enough to hold the biggest, strongest animal on earth. On the inside were spikes so long and so sharp, they would keep King Kong from opening his jaws.

This cage he'd stumbled into—it wasn't meant for a magician.

It was meant for a monster.




If you've ever climbed a volcano, or even seen a picture of a volcano, you may have noticed the cloudy haze lingering in the nearby air. This haze is called vog (as in volcanic smog). Clay had been living under its spell for over six weeks, and still he couldn't get used to it.

Most mornings, and almost every evening, the fog rolled in from the ocean to meet the smoke rising from Mount Forge, Price Island's far-too-active (some might say hyperactive) volcano. Stirred together like ingredients in a mad laboratory experiment, the fog and smoke became the billowing clouds of vog that stung Clay's eyes and seared his throat. Of course, sometimes the vog didn't billow; it just crept around the island, like an invisible predator, and made him feel tired and irritable without his knowing why. And then there were the times, like today, when Mount Forge acted up without warning, and all of a sudden the entire island was covered in a layer of vog so thick it was like someone had not only turned off the lights but turned off the gravity as well, giving him the sense of being suspended in a strange gray void.

Tucked away in a narrow valley, Clay's summer camp, Earth Ranch, usually escaped the worst of the vog, but that morning two cabinfuls of kids had left camp to spend the day at Bamboo Bay—a smallish U-shaped beach that backed up against a bamboo forest on one side and Mount Forge on the other. Unfortunately, as soon as they reached the beach, Mount Forge started belching smoke and vomiting lava as if the earth itself were suffering a terrible case of gastroenteritis. There was little danger of lava making it all the way down to the ocean, but, clearly, there would be no surfing or even any sunning today.

Flint, the junior counselor who was leading the beach expedition, suggested that the campers make the best of the bad weather by playing a game of Capture the Flag.

"We can call it Capture the Vog—it'll be awesome!"

He broke off a stick of bamboo. Then he looked up at the sky and released a tall plume of fire from his mouth, like a fire-breather at a carnival. All around him, the vog glowed orange and yellow, as if there'd been another volcanic eruption. When the fire subsided, a small flame burned at the end of the stick.

It was an impressive performance, made more so by the careless style of the performer. Flint had that cool-guy way of making tough things look easy.

As the campers applauded, he dragged his new torch across the beach, leaving a line of fire flickering in the black volcanic sand. A stranger might have guessed that he'd prepared ahead of time by pouring a line of gasoline, but his companions knew better. Flint had a special gift for pyrotechnics. He didn't need gas to light a fire; he needed only to snap his fingers.

In fact, many of the campers had talents like his, even if their skills were less advanced and their tricks less spectacular. Disguised as an outdoor survival camp for juvenile delinquents, Earth Ranch was, secretly, a magic camp for young adepts—a camp that depended on its remote location and ever-present vog for protection.

"Okay, Frogs, everything on this side of the line is yours," Flint declared, the flames turning his blue eyes gold. "Worms, the other side is yours." The Frogs were the younger girls, who resided in the cabin known as the Pond. The Worms were the younger boys, who resided in Earth Cabin—Clay's cabin. "Winners get to eat the losers' s'mores tonight. And don't forget—camp rules, everybody!"

"Yeah, except for you, right?" Clay scoffed.

Flint glared at him. "What did you say, Worm?"

Clay hid his smile. "Nothing!"

Camp rules meant No Magic.

The kids at Earth Ranch were forbidden from doing magic without adult supervision, but for some reason the rule never seemed to apply to Flint, despite his being only fifteen and not yet a full counselor. Certainly, it hadn't stopped him from making Clay's bunk smoke as if it were on fire when he passed by the previous night. Nor had it stopped him from making Clay's toothbrush start to melt that morning when he saw Clay brushing his teeth.

Someday, Clay had vowed, he would get Flint back.

Just… maybe not today.

"You have one minute to huddle, and then the game begins," Flint declared as he started walking down the beach. "I'll be back in ten to see the bloodbath!"

He started walking down the beach, alone.

The younger campers exchanged knowing glances. Flint had been disappearing a lot lately. The rumor was that he'd been practicing a new type of magic in secret. Nobody knew what this type of magic was, but it was undoubtedly difficult—and dangerous.

I don't know whether you've ever played Capture the Flag, but like most so-called recreational activities, it can quickly become very competitive.* In their pregame huddle, Clay's cabinmates, the Worms, strategized like they were plotting the crime of the century. No surprise, perhaps, given that they were criminals—or, rather, "struggling youth," as Earth Ranch called them in its glossy brochure.** Also, of course, they were magicians-in-training, but at Earth Ranch the campers tended to confuse crime with magic. Both things, after all, involved breaking laws—the one the laws of the land, the other the laws of nature.

Kwan, a Worm with a big, slick, swooping hairdo and a big, slick, swooping ego to match, elected himself team captain. He pointed toward a boy with a gold-tipped Afro and started giving orders. "Jonah, you're on recon. Scope out the opposition. When the target is vulnerable, give a sign."

Jonah nodded almost imperceptibly. Among his peers he was known to have a special knack for seeing things that others couldn't, whether in the future or in the dark. (It was an enviable skill because, unlike some other forms of magic, it could be practiced without attracting a counselor's attention.)

Kwan turned to a second colorfully coiffed boy—this one with a green Mohawk. "Pablo, mi amigo, your job is to create a diversion."

Pablo furrowed his brow, considering. "Explosives?"

"Tempting," admitted Kwan. "But I'm thinking robotics. We could use another player on the team, even if it's not human."

"An automaton? But Flint said camp rules…" Pablo protested halfheartedly, even though his friends could see the gleam in his eye.

"Do you see any counselors?" said Kwan.

Pablo grinned. "How much time do I have?"

"About three minutes. Plenty for a man of your genius."

Kwan sounded sarcastic, but it was true: Pablo had a fantastic ability to make robotic creatures—automatons—from unlikely materials, in record time. Indeed, Pablo was already picking up stray bamboo sticks and strings of seaweed and manipulating them as if they were steel rods and copper wires.

"So here's the plan, my brother Worms," Kwan continued. "While Pablo's robo-man is distracting the enemy, I will secure the target. Then I will make a big show of passing off the flag to Pablo.…"

Seemingly out of nowhere, a playing card appeared in Kwan's hand. He tossed it to Pablo, but by the time Pablo grabbed for it, the card had vanished into the air.

"But really, secretly, I will pass it off to Jonah, who will take it home and win those sweet, sweet s'mores for us.…"

Jonah looked down. The card was in his hand. A joker. He shook his head. "Show-off."

The others laughed.

Kwan was a master of legerdemain and an expert swindler; his cabinmates knew better than to engage him in a serious game of poker or even a friendly game of gin rummy.* If anybody could steal a flag and then pass it off to someone else a second later, Kwan could.

"Anything I can do?" asked Clay, as casually as he could. (He didn't want to come off like the last kid picked in a game of kickball, even if he felt a little bit that way.) "I know I've never robbed a bank like the rest of you reprobates—but I think I know how to play Capture the Flag."

"What are you talking about, dude? You're our MVP!" Kwan patted Clay on the head. "You protect our flag, and, uh, tag any girl who crosses onto our side and take her to jail, which is, um, that boulder over there." Kwan, who fancied himself a ladies' man, wiggled his eyebrows mischievously. "See, you have the best job in the game—guarding the girls!"

Clay laughed and shook his head. "You're a Neanderthal.

"So where's our flag, anyway?" he asked.

"Here—" Kwan pulled a long white tube sock off his foot and held it up. The bottom was dirty and moist, and the surrounding air suddenly swirled with eau de toe.

Clay recoiled. "Ugh! Dude, that's gross."

"Exactly," said Kwan, laughing. "It's like a protection spell—nobody will want to touch it!" He wagged the sock in front of Clay's face, and Clay dove away.

They all did.

In a matter of minutes, the game had begun and Clay was manning his post. Next to him, Kwan's sock hung limply from a stick, an uninspiring—and very stinky—flag, but Clay dutifully guarded it nonetheless.

It was eerily silent. Not having Jonah's extraordinary talent for seeing in the dark—or in this case, the vog—Clay couldn't see what the others were doing, but as far as he could tell, events were proceeding according to plan. Maybe the Worms would win without his coming into contact with another player.

Or did silence mean bad news rather than good?

Whenever Clay felt antsy, his knee jiggled up and down. His knee was already jiggling uncontrollably when he heard muffled screams and saw a strange, hairy silhouette moving jerkily in the vog. It looked like a scarecrow that was losing its stuffing, and it lurched in one direction and then another, as if it were hunting for wayward crows or maybe for a human brain to steal as its own.

Clay tensed as the creature staggered toward him.

What was it?

Just as Clay was considering running for his life, one of the thing's arms fell off. It took another step forward, then collapsed in a heap.

Oh! So that's what it was.

Clay exhaled, relieved and impressed. Pablo was a true wizard when it came to automatons. If his sticks-and-seaweed robo-man could spook Clay, who was expecting it, it must have been terrifying to the unsuspecting Frogs—a successful diversion. With any luck, Jonah would soon be crossing back to their side with the Frogs' flag in hand.

"Clay! Over here!" a familiar voice called in singsong, from somewhere to his right. "Catch me if you can!"



  • "Bosch fans will be thrilled at the reappearance of characters from his Secret Series, but the good fun and solid adventure will delight new readers just the same. ...An excellent addition to middle grade collections."—School Library Journal
  • "Bosch's humorous, intrusive narration is liberally applied to this engaging adventure...Readers will be thoroughly entertained by this second installment in the Bad Books series."—Booklist
  • Praise for Bad Magic:
"Bosch employs, to great effect, his signature irreverence and hilarity... a delight to read. Bad Magic is a clever and playful novel. An excellent addition to middle grade fiction collections."—School Library Journal
  • "Enjoyable... Bosch's arch narrative voice carries over from his previous books...From The Tempest and Lord of the Flies to shows like Gilligan's Island and Lost, cultural allusions abound as Clay tries to understand the island's many mysteries and meets his fellow campers. Gilbert's watercolors bring in additional humor."—Publishers Weekly
  • "...Bosch's mix of slapstick silliness, sly authorial asides, and magical adventure will appeal to readers of Lemony Snicket and M. T. Anderson's Pals in Peril series."—Booklist
  • "[Bad Magic] contains threads of mystery, magic, word games, and snark... It is suspenseful, humorous, clever, and most importantly, fun. Bad Magic is definitely entertaining for a wide range of readers."—Voya
  • On Sale
    Jan 17, 2017
    Page Count
    304 pages

    Pseudonymous Bosch

    About the Author

    Pseudonymous Bosch is the infamously anonymous author of the New York Times bestselling Secret Series and the Bad Books. Despite rumors to the contrary, his books are not actually written by his pet rabbit, Quiche; the rabbit is merely his typist.

    Learn more about this author