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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1239

Author: Noelle Stevenson (b. 1992)

First published: 2015

Type of work: Graphic Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of plot: Unknown

Locale: Unspecified medieval kingdom with advanced technology

Principal characters

Nimona, a fun-loving shapeshifter with a mysterious past who wants to be Blackheart's sidekick

Ballister Blackheart , an antihero...

(The entire section contains 1239 words.)

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Author: Noelle Stevenson (b. 1992)

First published: 2015

Type of work: Graphic Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of plot: Unknown

Locale: Unspecified medieval kingdom with advanced technology

Principal characters

Nimona, a fun-loving shapeshifter with a mysterious past who wants to be Blackheart's sidekick

Ballister Blackheart, an antihero who has a larger heart than he willingly shows

Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, hero who is actually weak-willed and persuaded to do bad

Dr. Blitzmeyer, a mad scientist

The Director, leader of the Institute for Law Enforcement and Heroics

The Story

Ballister Blackheart is the token villain in a semi-medieval kingdom. He quietly plots evil doings that have underlying benefits to the peasants of the world in which he lives. When a teenage shapeshifter knocks on his door, telling him she is there to apply as his sidekick, he is not quite sure what to think. Very quickly, Nimona worms her way into both his plans and his heart. The two discover that the Institute for Law Enforcement and Heroics has a stockpile of jaderoot, a poisonous plant, so the two villains decide to let the public know. Ballister is a scientist, and he thinks things through very carefully. He does not hurt anyone if he can help it. Nimona, on the other hand, is impulsive and violent. She does not stop to think and kills without remorse. Fortunately, Ballister's plans usually take precedence. Once rumors have spread of the Institute's jaderoot supplies, in an effort to make the Institute's plans known, Blackheart and Nimona plant apples laced with something that will make people who eat them ill. Ballister, of course, has no intention of letting these victims remain sick, and he secretly gives them an antidote after he has accomplished his goal of creating more suspicion around the Institute. Ballister and Nimona also plan a bank robbery. The two storm the bank's vault and steal some gold, but they leave piles of money out for the peasants, prompting Nimona to say, "What, are you Robin Hood now?"Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers

In the midst of this public crisis and Blackheart's attempts to keep the people safe, two subplots come into play. Through encounters with Ambrosius Goldenloin, the hero of the Institute and Ballister's former friend, and flashbacks, their relationship and current positions are explained. The two were very close years earlier and trained together to be heroes. This changed at their final testing when Ambrosius blew Ballister's arm off, leaving Blackheart stuck as the token villain since the Institute did not want a one-armed hero. The second subplot is about Nimona herself. She explains how she was turned into a dragon by a witch at age six. Nimona claims that the spell was faulty, and that is why she is able to shapeshift. Eventually, Blackheart discovers that she has not been truthful, but that does not stop him from saving her when she is kidnapped by the Institute. The Director wants to use her as a weapon, but Nimona has other plans.

The story is told in graphic form with panels that vary from bright reds, oranges, and yellows to cool, soothing greens, or dark blues, purples, and black depending on the events of the plot. The artwork is creative and detailed enough to draw readers into the characters' lives, and the dialogue is both snarky and amusing in turn. The book is a quick read that will appeal to even those readers who would not pick a longer narrative.

Critical Evaluation

Among the numerous literary merits for this graphic novel are complex characterization, the ways that it plays with traditional comic-book characters and relationships, and unconventional genre combinations. The three major characters are Nimona, Ballister Blackheart, and Ambrosius Goldenloin. Nimona and Blackheart are not black-and-white villains, nor are their moments of heroism pure in their goodness. Nimona exhibits more of the characteristics of the typical villain, though she is the sidekick. She is often impulsive, heartless, and violent. In fact, Blackheart often chides her for her actions. For instance, after their first outing during which Nimona kills several guards, Blackheart says, "Killing solves nothing, Nimona. It's vulgar, it's messy—if you're going to kill someone, you'd better be sure. You'd better be prepared to accept responsibility. So I don't KILL people just because they're in my way." When she counters that those she killed worked for the Institute, he logically points out that "The security guards didn't ruin my life." Nimona takes the lesson to heart, and she avoids killing until she is pushed to her limits of anger and fear. By the end of the story, she has softened, and both Blackheart and the readers are sympathetic and attached to the prickly teen. Blackheart is a calm, likeable character throughout the novel. He plots nefarious deeds because he is expected to do so, but his actions often have a positive outcome. His softer side is shown throughout the story. For instance, after watching a B movie with Nimona, he gently tucks her in when she falls asleep, and then when he thinks she has been killed, he is devastated. Goldenloin poses as the hero, but he acts mostly out of villainous self-interest. Goldenloin injured Blackheart to gain the upper hand, despite the fact that the two were friends. Goldenloin is also willing to kill Nimona on nothing more than a minimal argument against the Director's orders to remove the girl.

Thematically, the story considers friendship from a few different angles. First, it explores the idea that friends often come from unexpected places. Nimona quickly worms her way into Blackheart's heart as she compliments him on his villainy, enthusiastically throws herself into his plans, and loyally acts to protect him. Second, people and relationships throughout the novel are never quite what they appear to be. This might seem to be most obvious with Nimona and Blackheart as antiheroes, but the Institute for Law Enforcement and Heroics is more deceptive. Readers expect this governmental group to be heroic as its title suggests; however, its Director has her own agenda, which is not in the people's best interests. Finally, the story points out that forgiveness (and friendship) is a gift that can change lives. Blackheart and Goldenloin were best friends as young trainees, but Goldenloin's attack on Blackheart tore their relationship apart. Though it is clear that Goldenloin regrets the hurt he caused his friend, Blackheart bluntly tells him, "You never said you were sorry." The two regain some sense of closeness as they confront their problems as the story draws to a close.

Stevenson's skillful weaving of genre makes this book stand out. On the surface, it seems like a fantasy. The shapeshifter qualities certainly point to an unreal world where magic works, and the medieval clothing and setting suggest a connection to high fantasy. The fantasy elements are joined with science fiction aspects as well, especially with Blackheart's continued push to follow scientific methods. Dark humor and satire also pop in to create a well-rounded and multifaceted story.

Further Reading

  • Hicks, Faith Erin. "Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson." Review of Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson. The New York Times, 12 July 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/books/review/nimona-by-noelle-stevenson.html. Accessed 20 Dec. 2016.
  • Robinson, Tasha. "Fun, Fast-Moving Nimona Is a Perpetual Surprise." NPR, 19 May 2015, www.npr.org/2015/05/19/407077625/fun-fast-moving-nimona-is-a-perpetual-surprise. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.
  • Stevenson, Noelle. "Interview: Noelle Stevenson on Webcomics, Fan Art, and Nimona." Interview by Brigid Alverson. School Library Journal, 14 Dec. 2015, www.slj.com/2015/12/interviews/interview-noelle-stevenson-on-webcomics-fanart-and-nimona/. Accessed 2 Feb. 2017.
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