Whenever the due date for my library books draws near, I take a look at the catalog listing to see if anyone has it on hold. If not, I breathe a sigh of relief and put the book on the back burner assuming that I’ll be able to renew it on the due date. (I do not renew ahead of time because that would mean losing two or three precious days, and I can’t have that!) However, every now and then someone sneaks in and puts a hold on the book so I have to return it on the due date or incur a fine. Sigh. That’s what happened with Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Lucky for me, it was due today, and is a graphic novel, something easy and quick to read on my day off.
Nimona is a young shapeshifter looking to become a sidekick to a supervillain. Her villain of choice is the notorious Ballister Blackheart, nemesis to (and former friend of) Ambrosius Goldenloin. Blackheart lost his arm to Goldenloin in a duel when they were young, and their roles were sealed (as were their roles as assigned by the all-powerful Agency). Despite preferring to work alone, when Blackheart sees Nimona’s shape-shifting ability, he decides that she could be useful.
It’s quickly clear that Blackheart is not an especially villainous villain. He has plans and schemes, but he is constantly reminding Nimona that their plans don’t include killing. His plans are about science and uncovering the truth—and, okay, maybe a speck of revenge against Goldenloin. The two make a good pair, Nimona’s exuberance and bloodthirstiness complementing Blackheart seriousness and (dare I say?) gentleness. Together, they are formidable, and the Agency that governs the land has reason to fear when the pair uncovers their secret cache of deadly and illegal poison.
Nimona knowingly subverts the usual tropes about good and evil, science and magic, and the rule of law. All the characters are set up as established archetypes, but their individuality sets them against those archetypes. They behave as they do because they’re part of a system that sets rules and establishes roles. The system, as it turns out, is rigged against them, as it indeed so often is. And they all must figure out how to be true to themselves while acting within that system—or perhaps tearing the system down.
This is a very clever and enjoyable book that has serious undercurrents while maintaining a pleasant silliness on the surface. It began its life as a webcomic, and the opening chapters are still available online. Take a look!