After his older magician brother disappears without warning or trace, not-quite-13-years-old Clay inadvertently defaces a middle school wall with anti-magic graffiti, securing him an unwanted ticket to a retreat for delinquent children on the remote Price Island. Only Earth Ranch isn’t quite what it seems. The enigmatic camp director lives in a teleporting teepee, mysterious vog (a soupy, volcanic smog) moves across the lava flats with a mind of its own, and strangely sentient honeybees enforce the boundaries of the hallowed Wall of Trust, beyond which lies the forbidden and possibly haunted ruins of dead billionaire Richard Price’s abandoned palace. But a little exploring never hurt anyone, right?

“’Okay, okay, I’ll stay. I just have one question. What’s the Other Side?” Mr. Bailey pointed to the ladder. “Why don’t you go outside and see?’”

Fans of author Pseudonymous Bosch’s previous efforts will feel right at home in Bad Magic, a companion tale starring the younger sibling of previous Secret Series protagonist Max-Ernest. The quirky and self-aware narrator is a force to be reckoned with, unapologetically interrupting the reader with countless questions, challenges, and observations throughout the course of the polished narrative. Hilarious footnotes tag every other page and never fail to add interesting facts and asides to the action. Weird and colorful characters, like the Spanish-understanding llama Como and the pyro-magician Flint, help guide the well-paced Shakespearean mystery toward its satisfyingly eruptive conclusion. Also of note are Gilbert Ford’s bold and bright watercolor illustrations, which are full of personality and adorned with just the right amount of splash-outside-the-lines charm.

There’s only good magic in this new series kickoff. An awesomely smart adventure for precocious middle graders.