Today, we’re going to review a beloved comic that has garnered a lot of acclaim: Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona. For those unfamiliar with Nimona, here’s a bit of background history. Originally published as a webcomic, Slate Magazine awarded writer and illustrator Noelle Stevenson the Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Web Comic of the Year in 2012. Harper Teen published the comic in book form in 2015, and Nimona became a National Book Award finalist the same year. Stevenson was also nominated for both a Harvey and an Eisner award. Awards help readers and libraries select materials, but they can also garner criticism if readers believe they’re undeserved. This review sets out to demonstrate why Nimona deserves its acclaim and should have a place in most, if not all, library collections.
Here’s the premise: knight-turned-evil mad scientist Ballister Blackheart is locked in conflict with his nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, and Goldenloin’s employer, the Institution. After a young shapeshifter named Nimona appears and demands to be his assistant, Blackheart’s plans start to succeed, and he begins to uncover the secrets of the Institution. As Nimona and Blackheart come closer to exposing the Institution for what it truly is, Blackheart starts to realize that he might not know Nimona’s full story.
Nimona is an exciting fantasy adventure that will make you cry and laugh. Stevenson blends medieval concepts (such as knights) with mad scientist elements, resulting in a unique and fun pseudo-medieval setting. The beginning of the story is full of plenty of laughs, but the humor gradually dissipates as Nimona and the Institute’s secrets come to light. What makes Nimona’s story so compelling is Nimona herself. Nimona is, at first glance, a potent combination of impulsive and powerful, whose antics shake up Ballister and the others. But as the reader learns more of her story, a deeper, darker picture emerges. While she certainly is an imperfect character—she uses what Ballister sees as an excessive amount of force—Stevenson reveals enough of Nimona’s backstory that the reader will see her as sympathetic. Yet, Nimona’s strength is never compromised: even as she grows and changes, she is entirely herself. Stevenson excels at gradually revealing plot points, and the story keeps its tension to the very end.
It is wonderful to see a story with a powerful female character, but Stevenson also succeeds in weaving the growth of the other characters as well. The arc of Ballister and Ambrosius’ relationship plays out in a satisfying way and will likely make some readers squeal with joy. All of the main characters’ lives were negatively impacted by the Institution, and Stevenson has succeeded in creating a story where so many of the characters benefit from the takedown of the villains. The result is a powerful story about navigating life based on one’s experiences and demons.
Stevenson’s artistic strength lies in her character designs, which perfectly capture Nimona and the other characters’ personalities. From the beginning, Stevenson’s character drawings are expressive and full of humor, but other aspects—such as setting and coloring—are initially weaker. In the first half of the book, the smaller panels are harder to read, and the colors flatter. As the story progresses, more detailed backgrounds give readers get a better sense of the setting, and the panels become easier to read and have bolder colors that give Stevenson’s work more vibrancy. Although the initial panels might put off some readers, the character designs and humor in the first part of the story will make them keep reading. For readers who nerd out about character design and artistic development, the artistic evolution in Nimona will be sure to fascinate.
Nimona’s charming characters and strong storytelling make it an essential addition to libraries’ teen collections, and Nimona will attract teen and adult readers who are looking for a smart and sweet fantasy narrative. Libraries who collect Stevenson’s other series, Lumberjanes, should be sure to have Nimona on their shelves.
by Noelle Stevenson
Harper Teen, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: Teen