Friday, September 23, 2016

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Reviewed by Ambrea
Nimona is a shapeshifter, and she’s just volunteered to act as Lord Ballister Blackheart’s new assistant.  As the assistant to the kingdom’s foremost supervillain, Nimona is excited for all the new opportunities for mayhem that are coming her way—and she’s ready to wreak some havoc.  But Ballister has a plan.  He has revenge on his mind and he has one goal:  prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics are as corrupt as he knows they are.

As Nimona and Ballister begin their campaign against the Institution, fighting against a system that keeps them trapped in the same old roles, Ballister begins to see Nimona not only as an invaluable sidekick but as a friend.  But as their small acts of mischief, bank robbery, and general Robin Hood antics evolve into vicious clashes with Goldenloin and the Institution, Ballister discovers a side to Nimona he didn’t expect—and he’ll have to make a choice between the kingdom that spurned him and the sidekick who’s become his closest friend.

Nimona is absolutely brilliant.  I initially started reading it several months ago when it was still available as a webcomic on Noelle Stevenson’s website; however, I couldn’t wait to get a copy of Nimona in print.  And I’m glad I did, because I’ve enjoyed it so much.  (So far, I’ve managed to read it three times—and I find there’s always something new and wonderful to discover about it.)

Much like Stevenson’s most recent endeavor, Lumberjanes, Nimona is a quirk adventure story that’s full of lovable characters and a spectacular story.  Combining familiar tropes from fantasy and science fiction, Nimona mixes together dark magic, knights, mages, jousts and dragons with incredible futuristic technology (think touchscreens, holographic images, and other fantastical forms of science).  It’s a strange amalgamation of the ancient, the modern, and the futuristic that works well together, creating a graphic novel that draws on a variety of different myths and stories and ideals.

Although the art style is a little peculiar if not a little rough, I have to say I loved the gradual progression of Stevenson’s art as Nimona came into its own.  There’s a discernible shift in the creator’s art style as she developed the story and her characters.  For instance, I liked how Nimona changed over the course of the story, how her appearance changed and evolved to reflect her emotions, thoughts, or feelings.  She was rarely the same from one chapter to the next (which I can mostly attribute to her shapeshifting abilities), and she’s a dynamic character with a lot of attitude and a slightly caustic sense of humor.  She has a mysterious past, but she has a heart of gold and a sense of loyalty to her friends, like Ballister.

I grew to love her.

And I loved seeing her interact with Ballister.  Ambrosius and Ballister have a complicated relationship to say the least, but Ballister and Nimona’s relationship seems almost carefree by comparison.  Granted, Nimona’s past comes back to haunt her and pretty much destroys her friendship with Ballister, but there’s a kinship there that’s enjoyable to see.  I liked their bantering back and forth, their father-daughter dynamic as they worried about one another, arguing and bickering like a parent and child are wont to do.  It’s a nice friendship that they develop, which I really liked.

Nimona, however, is not a lighthearted story.  It introduces readers to some very deep, thought-provoking subjects and it confronts several very intense themes as the story progresses.  Despite its deceptively simple art style, Nimona is a complex and incredibly thoughtful book.  It takes a long hard look at the roles of good and evil, dealing with the meaning of right and wrong and how politics can sometimes get in the way of morality; it deals with interpersonal relationships, both platonic and romantic, and one’s sense of belonging; it confronts personal trauma, growth, and what it really means to be good or evil—and what a person is willing to do to save the people they love.  It has an underlying political and social complexity that’s easy to miss, but it doesn’t shy away from the hard topics.

A mad adventure involving science and sharks—and explosions and dragons and nemeses, and so much more—Nimona is, as a blurb from the cover suggests, a “brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic” that’s sure to tickle any readers’ fancy.  It’s heartbreaking, it’s fun and raucous, it’s irreverent and thoughtful and strange, but it’s an incredible book all the same and I highly recommend it to readers both young and old and in between.

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