Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Spellbinders: The Not-So-Chosen One

Auseon, Andrew. Spellbinders: The Not-So-Chosen One
June 6, 2023 by Labyrinth Road 
ARC provided by the publisher

After his parents' divorce, Ben isn't happy that his mother has moved him away from the city and his friends, with whom he had a role playing game group for Kingdom of Forever. The five are supposed to be meeting up for the Fantasy Fandom Convention, as has been their tradition, but his friends have VIP tickets and he's angry that they aren't doing things the same way they have been. While he's waiting for them to show up, he's approached by a girl in a fantastic costume who claims that he is the Chosen One. Dubious, he plays along, and is surprised to find himself drawn through a portal to the world of Lux. His notebook, which was a gift from his father, has the Prophet's Seal on it, so Niara has whisked him away, and he's soon riding down a mountain on a hulking usu named Sprinkles, escaping threats like the King's Wings and flying narwhals! He's still getting texts on his phone from his mother, so there's no panic about his whereabouts in the Earth world, but he finds that when he writes things down in the notebook, they come to pass. There are certain rules about what he can and can't make happen, but he uses this power to help Niara survive battles. There are some odd things in Lux, like a statue of the Prophet wearing seatpants and flip flops, and Ben isn't pleased to find out that the Prophecy that brought him to Lux says that he will find the Prophet's weapon... but then be killed! Ben meets Merv, a thief (whose pronouns are they/them) who wants to rob the king's treasury. The two manage to retrieve the weapon from the Gullet of Torment, but Ben ends up in the king's dungeon. The weapon is not what anyone expects, and sheds some surprising light on the entire kingdom. Can Ben use his powers to both save Lux and get back to Earth to reconnect with his mother and make new friends at school?
N.B. There's a great twist in this that I don't want to ruin. 
Strengths: There is a certain kind of middle grade fantasy reader who has internalized Harry Potter and truly half believes that they will someday get sucked into a fantasy world. They write fan fiction, play Dungeons and Dragons, and frequently wear unicorn headbands or capes to school, and save their allowances to buy books. Their parents are often also fantasy readers. This is perfect for them. The middle school friend drama is on point, and it's nice to see that Ben manages to feel a bit better about his move in real life by the end of the book. There's a lot of action, and Ben starts to understand that battles are not glorious, but have sad consequences. There is also plenty of humor, from the stinky usu that he has to ride to the half-a-bubble-off quirks of the Prophet, like the oversize "Have a Nice Day" sacred t-shirts to the weird things that are considered bad language, like "butternut squash" and "cargo pants". There's an overall feeling of being in on a secret that is especially enticing. There's plenty of room for a sequel due to the twist at the end. 
Weaknesses: At 432 pages, this is going to appeal to hard core fantasy readers, especially since this seems to be the first book in the series. In a nit picky moment, Ben talks about feeling woozy the way he did when he got his wisdom teeth out; Ben's no more than 13, and most people don't get their wisdom teeth removed until the end of high school or later. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who love hefty fantasy tomes like Kate O'Hearn's books, Shannon Messenger's epic Keeper of Lost Cities series or Townsend's Nevermore saga.


  1. Oooh! This looks really fun! I'm going to have to wait, though, because it's still on-order at the library.

  2. Nice, honest review of Spellbinders.