I just finished reading Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson. It’s been on my list a while, since Stevenson wrote the incredible Lumberjanes as well as show-runs one of my favorite Netflix shows, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Nimona was her first book, and actually started as a webcomic written while she was in art school (Wikipedia even tells me that she submitted it as her senior thesis). I read HarperCollins’s 2015 print edition, and I absolutely loved it. On the surface, it’s a light satire about fantasy villains and heroes, but as it moves on, both the universe and the characters’ relationships deepen and become more interesting.
The story opens with Ballister Blackheart, master of villainy, finding a young red-haired woman in his lab. She introduces herself as Nimona, and insists he hire her as his sidekick. After some resistence, and finding out she’s a shapeshifter, he does. The first couple of chapters belie the book’s webcomic roots, as they’re light on world-building and fairly goofy. There’s jokes with sharks. Nimona, it turns out, is a shapeshifter. Sir Goldenloin, Blackheart’s nemesis and hero of the realm, is introduced. Et cetera.
After a little while, it becomes clear that not all is right in the kingdom. The main law-enforcement body, The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, has been experimenting with a potent poison. Nimona is much more than she seems, possibly a quasi-Eldritch horror. Blackheart and Goldenloin have a complicated history.
The climax of the book is that rarity: completely surprising, but on closer inspection, totally inevitable. It’s a challenging ending, as well: I found myself craving more of the world and the characters while being totally satisfied with the story as a story.
Of course, I also loved the drawings. Stevenson’s pacing is incredible, her drawings are funny and expressive and poignant, and she leaves so many details in the pictures that Nimona is re- and re-readable. I really had a great time with this book, and I’m not at all surprised that Stevenson has moved on to the great successes she has.