The Zero Blessing by Christopher G. Nuttall
Imagine you were the one kid who can’t jump at basketball camp or the one student who can’t draw at art school. Now, imagine that the fate of your family depends on you doing well there.
That is the situation in which Caitlyn Aguirre finds herself in Christopher G. Nuttall’s The Zero Blessing.
The Zero Blessing, the first volume of The Zero Enigma series is the story of a girl who is sent away to magic school—even though she is a zero—a person with no magic of any kind. Worse if word gets out that Caitlyn lacks magical talent, her family will be shamed, causing them to lose their high position to their rivals, House Rubén.
Caitlyn and her two magic wielding sisters go off to a school where her upbringing allows her to ace magical theory questions, but where she must suffer daily humiliation when she cannot pass a single practical exercise.
Jude’s Sorcerous Academy is described in great detail, giving us a vivid view of this unfamiliar environment. In addition to the normal pitfalls of British boarding schools, where older students have what seems—to Americans—like a dangerous amount of power over their younger classmen, Caitlyn has to face magic. Students are allowed, practically encouraged, to throw hexes at each other, so long as the hexes merely discomfort. This is supposed to help build good defenses and counterspell ability. But when the victim has no magic to develop, the school becomes a sort of private hell.
Nuttall does an extremely good job of establishing the pressures on Caitlyn that make it impossible for her to merely go to her instructors and admit her predicament. Her father is one of the most powerful men in the country, but he is constantly in danger of losing his esteemed position to another family who is willing to do anything to take House Aguirre’s position. The news that one of Aguirre’s daughters has no magic, that there has been some kind of corruption in the family bloodline, might be enough to give this rival house the ammunition they need to dethrone House Aguirre.
Did I mention that the snooty daughter of that very rival house ends up not only in Caityn’s class, but as one of her roommates—where she can keep an eye on our poor heroine at all times?
The one bright spot in Caitlyn’s ordeal is her growing friendship with Rose, a commoner girl who is as out of place at Jude’s as Caitlyn. Only while Caitlyn has theory and no magic, Rose has magic and no theory. She can hardly even read. After a few false starts, they begin to realize how they can benefit each other and too work together, each helping the other overcome her faults.
Soon they are doing something that I particularly enjoy in a story and seldom see: experimenting! Through a mix of accident and inspiration, Caitlyn begins to learn about the very system of magic in her world, how it works, what it accomplished, and while doing this, Caitlyn discovers that maybe being a zero is more of a blessing than she had suspected.
The characters, both friendly and cold, are quite well drawn. One character I particularly liked was Caitly’s father. I found him quite admirable, even if a few of his childrearing decisions turn out to be rather poor. Convinced by one or two unusual incidents in her childhood that Caitlyn must have magic, he allowed her sisters to pick on her, in hopes that being hexed and left frozen for an hour might bring out Caitlyn’s innate magic.
Something about this scenario powerful impressive father believes child can hide shortcoming and tangle with peers seemed familiar. It took me a chapter or two to realize what it reminded me of, one of my favorite stories: Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. Both Rudolph’s father and Caitlyn’s father strike me as reasonably good men, but they both are overly optimistic about how well their child can do when interacting with children who do not have their…drawback. And both men are filled with regret when they realize their error. Caitlyn’s reaction, when her beloved father finally apologized, may have been the most touching heartbreaking moment in this well-crafted story.
If the book had a flaw, it was that, at times, I found it too grim. This was more of an issue in the early pages, before Cat and Rose truly became friends, though when the two of them mess up once later on, the consequences to the girls were so dire I found them a bit disturbing. But this very flaw added a depth to the story that reached beyond that which many stories of its type achieve.
As the story continues, Caitlyn finds a unique way to use her new knowledge to gain a victory that both defeats her rival and catapults Caitlyn herself into the spotligh,t where she is finally recognized as an asset to her family.
I recommend The Zero Blessing, It is the start of a promising series.
The Zero Blessing on Amazon