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Book Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona is a girl who can shapeshift into a monster. Or a monster who can shapeshift into a girl. Or something more complicated than that. In any case, she shows up unannounced at supervillain extraordinaire Ballister Blackheart’s lair and declares herself his sidekick. He is… not amused. “I can’t have a kid following me around all day,” he complains, to which she gleefully responds (and shapeshifts): “I’m a shark!”

Nimona’s persistence and her incredible powers make Blackheart accept her as an ally and together they set to work discrediting the powerful Insitute of Law Enforcement and Heroics. It’s Nimona’s dream come true – though it might take some getting used to for the both of them.

Nimona, it seems, has more of a taste for the violence of a traditional supervillain – she wants to kill the King and take over or kill Ballister’s archnemesis and be unequaled! But Ballister loathes the mess and waste of death and violence. Still, during their first evil plot together, Ballister runs into said archnemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin.

It’s complicated. They had been friends once, back when Ballister was another hopeful hero recruit at the Institute. And then Ambrosius has shot his arm off, and Ballister was forced to become a villain (because what Champion of Law Enforcement and Heroics only has one arm?)

Nimona doesn’t know any of this though, and seeing their plan on the brink of collapse, she takes off to “contain” the situation in her own special way. Ballister is not amused.

But then the Institute decides that Nimona might be too dangerous, that she doesn’t fit into their carefully scripted role for the villain, that perhaps she is too powerful (a thought that the Director of the Institute doesn’t much like).

Meanwhile, Ballister stumbles upon a way to limit Nimona’s powers, something that terrifies Nimona. She’s never been unable to shift, never been out of control of her powers.

But none of the stories she’s told Ballister about where she came from made sense, and as a man of science, Ballister is more than a little nervous about her seemingly unlimited magical abilities.

Still, the Institute is up to something terrible, and Nimona and Ballister are the only ones who can stop it. If only each could trust the other to really have their back.

A graphic novel with simple art style for first-time graphic novel readers, but plenty of details for those who are into the genre, Nimona blurs a lot of lines. Good and evil, power and corruption, monster and human, friend and enemy.

Context matters here, and the twists of the story – written over a long span during its webcomic days – show that our smallest choices can affect which side we stand on.

Complicated and tense relationships between fangirl-ish and insecure (yet super powerful) Nimona; scientific, conflicted pacifist Ballister; and the melodramatic, changeable, yet good-hearted Sir Ambrosius fill in what could be a simplistic story.

The almost-familiar plot gives a lot of solid pegs to hang questions on – is violence ever ok? Is revenge? Are good intentions enough?

Nimona is a quick-read, perfect for teens that are increasingly busy with homework and extracurriculars.

Pair With:

  • The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett – Both books have a bent toward the surprising, and a healthy dose of the magical to balance out the mundane. A traditional text novel, The Wee Free Men is a humorous take on a young girl’s growing up – and finding out she’s a witch. The Elf Queen has stolen Tiffany’s baby brother, and may also be plotting to overthrow the mortal realm. She teams up with the tiny, blue Scottish fairyland creatures the Wee Free Men – the only clan to cast of the Elf Queen’s influence. Another story about a young girl and her magic, this story fleshes out many of the questions that Nimona raises.


  • Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson – Can’t get enough shapeshifting? Really loved Stevenson’s artwork? Then I am happy to let you know that you can get both fixes with the Lumberjanes series. The first comic finds a group of five young women at a summer camp for “hardcore lady types,” and these girls certainly fit the bill (even Ripley’s love for adorable animals. But after they witness a woman turn into a bear, they start to search the woods for clues as to what’s really happening.

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