When last we saw our heroine, at the end of The Zero Blessing by Christopher G. Nuttall, she had just won a duel in such a fashion that everyone discovered her secret—Caitlyn Aguirre could make Objects of Power.
In Caitlyn’s world everyone has magical abilities, and no one can make Objects of Power—permanent magic items. Only, Caitlyn discovers that she is the exception. She has no ability to perform magic on her own but has discovered a talent for creating magical object that do not quickly fall apart. Apparently, she has rediscovered the secret of the ancients who made the few Objects of Power still in existence—that they had to be made by a Zero, i.e. someone with no talent at magic.
The Zero Curse opens to find Caitlyn back at her family manor again, having temporarily left Jude’s Academy in order to talk with her family about this amazing turn of events. Her overbearing great-aunt comes to visit. Last time, Caitlyn and her sisters saw this odious woman, they were turned into frogs. Now, suddenly, Great Aunt Stregheria had taken an interest in Caitlyn. She explains that she would be the best person to mold and shepherd the new family protégé.
To the great satisfaction of readers everywhere, Caitlyn’s father sends the great-aunt packing.
Returning to school, Caitlyn is relieved to discover that she has not lost her position as an assistant in forging class and that she still seems to be on good terms with her fellow assistant, Adin Ruben, even though Caitlyn’s duel was fought with Adin’s sister and his family were the rivals of House Aquirre.
One thing I neglected to mention in my review of the first book is that in this world, the art of making magic items is called forging and the place you make them is called a forgery. I cannot tell you how confusing this was at first, as I was so puzzled that a young woman of good family would consider becoming a forger and living a life of crime, and every time forgery was mentioned, I thought it meant a fake version of something. But, with time, I sorted it all out, and now the terms seem perfectly normal to me. Eventually, we do discover that this world still has smithies—which is where normal objects, such as plows and horseshoes, are made.
Being able to make objects of such importance gives Caitlyn a new prominence. Older students, who never speak to youngsters, seek her out and make deals with her, offering her favors if she will make them Objects of Power. For a girl who has been looked down on and mistreated since she was seven, this is quite a heady experience.
But all does not go smoothly for our heroine. When one older classman offers her a particular intriguing deal, Caitlyn agrees—only to be kidnapped!
Waking up in a strange place, Caitlyn discovers that she is the prisoner of people who expect them to forge for her. It is hard to force someone to do acts of skill and creation, but her captives have found a particularly devious way around this limitation. Rose and Adin are prisoners as well, and if Caitlyn disobeys them, her captives hurt her friends.
Worse, her friends are under a magical compulsion that forces them to actively stop her if they catch her trying to escape.
I won’t give away how she gets free of this dire situation, except to say that being able to stick other people in your pockets—after preparing the proper magic items—could come in very useful. Can you imagine how useful that would be for traveling or keeping track of one’s kids? That is, of course, assuming that the magic doesn’t run out, causing them to pop back to full size, at just the wrong moment. I suspect it would be hard to explain to, say, the flight attendants, why you suddenly have three or more people with you than you have seats.
But I digress.
Escaping their captors, Caitlyn and her friends discover that they are hundreds of miles from home. Worse, they are in a place where it is possible that even with magic, no one could find them. Centuries before, there was a great empire that fell, and the events of the fall left it a place of wild and twisted magic. No one knows what caused this great civilization to fall or why it happened.
No one except Caitlyn.
While they are sneaking through the ruins, Caitlyn is drawn to a secret workroom, where the last zero of the empire’s forgery team has left a message, explaining how the empire fell.
Not Caitlyn is not only the only magic item fashioner in a millennia, she is also the only person who knows the truth about the nature of magic.
It takes skill and teamwork for Caitlyn, Adin, and Rose to escape their pursuers and find their way back to safety, and a bit of luck as well. I won’t give away how they do it, as you’ll enjoy the wild ride more if it comes as a surprise.
Overall, it is an enjoyable book. The sequence when Caitlyn was a prisoner, held by her bespelled friends was quite excruciating, but I suppose heroines must suffer hard times so they have something to overcome. Both Caitlyn and Rose are charming characters, but I am hoping that book three will bring a bit more character development for Adin. Between not being onstage much in the first book and being under a spell in the second, he hasn’t had time to develop more of a personality than aristocratic boy, likes forging. I am hoping that his and Caitlyn’s friendship will continue, and he will get a chance to come into his own.
Coming soon: the third Zero Enigma book: The Zero Equation.
Chapter One of The Zero Equation is up on Christopher G. Nuttall’s blog