Written by Lauryn Smith
The first and last graphic novel I read was for a contemporary fiction class in college. From that experience, I learned that there are some things that pictures, or a combination of pictures and text, can better accomplish than text alone. I used to think that graphic novels were only for young readers, but I have since changed my mind—graphic novels can actually be full of meaning. So when Reviewer Beth Winters suggested I read “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson, I agreed.
I was not disappointed.
"Nimona,” which falls in the young adult genre, is a full-color graphic novel based on Stevenson’s web comic of the same name. In this work of fiction, there are heroes and villains and dragons and science and contemporary ideology. Essentially, Stevenson’s story consists of classic premises sprinkled with modernity.
The eponymous character, young in relation to the book’s other characters, one day shows up at the home of bad guy Lord Ballister Blackheart asking to be his sidekick. Reluctantly, Blackheart agrees. He and Nimona, who turns out to be a skilled shapeshifter, make and execute "villainous" plans, one of which leads them to discover that the powerful Institution of Law Enforcement is up to no good. Complicating matters is the fact that Blackheart’s once good friend Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin works for the Institution. Naturally, chaos ensues.
Told in the third person, “Nimona” is more than a simple tale of good triumphing over evil. While this cliché does constitute the novel’s main premise, Stevenson incorporates heartwarming moments that hint toward deeper intentions, namely explication of things like friendship and the idea that people cannot accurately be defined by labels due to their multi-faceted complexity.
Stevenson is clearly a skilled artist, and she has a style that is uniquely her own. The tone throughout the book is consistently lighthearted, though the content is not always so. Stevenson’s sketches fog the negativity in a way that eases the mood while not hampering the function darkness serves throughout the story.
On the other hand, I wish that the images that coincide with text contributed more to the storyline. Although they are amusing and at times descriptive, “Nimona” can effectively be read without considering many of the them. While fun, most are nonessential.
Still, “Nimona” is a worthy read as it delves into broken relationships, unexpected friendships and sacrifice. Stevenson’s voice is evident throughout the course of the novel, but characterization is where she excels. Clever bits of sarcasm and humor, such as the boredom with which Nimona reacts to Blackheart’s love of science, undoubtedly hint toward the author’s own personality.
Not only does Stevenson successfully balance humor and seriousness, her characters' backstories are heartwarming and relevant. She does well to illustrate the characters’ distinct personalities. Nimona is impulsive and whip-smart. Blackheart is meticulous and cautious. Goldenloin is virtuous and torn between competing loyalties.
The one backstory Stevenson leaves somewhat unfinished is that of Nimona. Sure, we are told how she gained her shapeshifting abilities. But we are not told why she is drawn to Blackheart, arguably the plot's spark. Admittedly, I have not read the web comic, so it may very well be explained there. However, for those like me who have been exposed only to the graphic novel, that missing aspect detracts from its sense of completeness.
A bonus that appears at the end of the book is a collection of conceptual images that demonstrate the characters’ aesthetic transformations over time. In addition to being purely interesting, this provision gives readers a feeling of connectedness both to the story and its characters as well as to Stevenson and her artistic process.
Since it was recommended to me by a Reviewer who is an established fan of graphic novels, I feel safe in saying that those who already enjoy them will appreciate “Nimona.” I also think “Nimona” will provide readers who have had little to no exposure to graphic novels a safe introduction. As someone who is only beginning to explore the genre, I enjoyed it. I already have my eye on another graphic novel that is more serious in nature. (Stay tuned for that review!) Plus, books like these are quick reads, which might renew your motivation to continue whittling down that to-read pile!
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Publication date: May 12, 2015
Page count: 272
List price: $12.99
Awards: 2016 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Best Graphic Album Reprint
Nominations: 2015 National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature; 2015 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Best Digital/Web Comic Nominee; 2015 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Graphic Novels & Comics; 2016 Milwaukee County Teen Book Award Nominee; 2017 Magnolia Award Nominee for 9-12; 2017 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Nominee
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