Author: Noelle Stevenson
Published: 2015, HarperTeen
Audience: Young Adult
Find it: Goodreads
Find it: Goodreads
Lord Ballister Blackheart didn’t ask to become the villain of the kingdom, but he’s since accepted -- and even come to embrace -- his role. Neither did he ask for a sidekick -- and certainly not a sidekick quite like Nimona. When Nimona reveals her shape-shifting abilities, however, Blackheart realizes she may indeed become a valuable asset in his vendetta to prove that the ruling Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics -- and its star hero, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin -- isn’t quite as heroic as it claims to be.
On the surface, Nimona appears to be more or less your typical good vs. evil story, albeit one that is told through the perspective of the villains. It isn’t long, however, before all conceptions of good and evil are turned on their head, transformed, and erased; Blackheart and Nimona perform undeniably evil acts, but so do Goldenloin and the agents of the Institution. The people of their quasi-medieval world suffer for the sake of keeping face, personal gain, and self-righteousness. Through the actions and beliefs of the “heroes” and “villains,” Stevenson spins a tale that intelligently examines the morality, responsibility, and culpability of all sides in this conflict.
In the midst of all the moral ambiguity stands Nimona herself, perhaps the greatest enigma of them all. She’s a shapeshifter and a bit too eager in her pronouncements for the destruction of everything. But who, exactly, is Nimona? And what benefit does she gain through an alliance with Blackheart? These questions are as central to the story as Blackheart and Goldenloin’s conflict (and their implied relationship).
From Nimona’s punk-inspired main form (which is wonderfully curvy), to the Inquisitor’s long, serpentine frame, Stevenson’s cartoonish, goofy illustrations generally work well with the text. At times the illustrations feel a bit too cartoony, however, and on occasion detract from the story’s intelligent, thoughtful examination of morality.
The format, illustrations, and emphasis on a heroes vs. villains conflict give Nimona an unsurprisingly comic-like feel, which may dissuade certain readers from this story. Those willing to look past the format, however, are in for a treat. Nimona is a story for those who like their morals gray, their rivalries bitter, and their resolutions open-ended.
Rating: 4 stars