ND Stevenson’s graphic novel Nimona piqued my interest for myriad reasons. First, it features Stevenson’s unique, eye-grabbing art style and pithy dialogue. Second, the title reminded me of this song, which stuck in my head throughout my entire time with the book. Finally, news of a Netflix adaptation broke in April, and you can bet I’m not gonna watch that without having read the source material first!
The mysterious and quirky Nimona inserts herself into the life and schemes of the purported villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. No, really, she just…shows up in his compound and starts calling him “boss” as though they’ve worked together for years. Reluctant at first, Blackheart warms to Nimona, who soon reveals herself to be a shapeshifter. Together, they set out to unearth corruption at the hands of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. Sir Goldenloin is the Institution’s primary hero; he and Blackheart have a checkered past. After a mysterious incident tore them apart, they became sworn enemies. Nimona, it turns out, could be the force that brings them back into one another’s good graces…or tears them apart forever.
Nimona has spunk. The book playfully subverts fantasy tropes while reveling in what makes them good. Stevenson makes this apparent through worldbuilding choices, bringing both magic and science to western medieval society. The addition of television and adjacent media technologies bring live news segments streaming onto projectors, making the story relatable and accessible, providing tons of fun to boot. Magic and science clash in Nimona’s medieval-ish society, though science is more common. TV and similar technology exists, as shown through various live news segments streaming onto characters’ projectors. The result is a unique combination of sci-fi and fantasy and a world allowing for a relatable and intriguing story.
The characters nab the spotlight in Nimona, and rightfully so. Nimona herself predictably takes the cake. Her shapeshifting abilities lend her a certain ineffable confidence. Who wouldn’t be a bit brash and cocksure with the power to change forms on a whim? But beneath it all, Nimona is troubled by a past she’s hesitant to address. When she meets Lord Blackheart, she opens up over time. Still, she’s been hurt before, and her reluctance to share herself with a possible new friend makes their interactions tense, especially in quiet moments where the two are simply having a conversation.
Blackheart, meanwhile, shouldn’t be overlooked. Wronged by his former friend and cast into a life of villainy, he harbors resentment. It shows in his nefarious plots and schemes. However, when it comes to the act of killing, he is reticent. He wants to cause a lite brand of chaos to teach his friends-turned enemies a lesson. When Nimona kills rampantly to save their skins, he is put off by her violence and tries to mold her behavior to be less lethal. Blackheart doesn’t relish villainy. He wants out, and that much is apparent from the onset. This life was thrust upon him; he didn’t choose it. Nimona enhances the need in Blackheart to do the right thing, despite her own missteps. They’re a remarkable pair.
Add Goldenloin to the mix, and you’ve got a charming trifecta of main characters. Goldenloin spurned Blackheart. In a jousting match, Goldenloin damaged Blackheart irreparably, removing the villain’s arm (which has been replaced with a mechanical prosthetic by the time the novel begins). A disgraced Blackheart believes Goldenloin disfigured his arm on purpose. Goldenloin works for the Institution, and over the course of the story sees him grow more and more uncomfortable with the organization’s way of doing things. Meanwhile, he reckons with the choices he made and the friendship he willingly tarnished.
Nimona moves along at a brisk pace, thanks to the format. It’s easy to devour the graphic novel in one or two sittings, enjoying the big picture as ND Stevenson doles it out. Nimona reads like a novel in its pacing. The entire story builds to an epic conclusion, with reveals spaced out enough to make for impactful mini-climaxes within the larger story. Though the focus remains on Blackheart, Nimona, and Goldenloin, there’s a delightful cast of supporting characters. Each addition oozes personality, further adding to Nimona’s unique energy.
In a vast sea of cookie-cutter fantasy, Nimona breaks the mold. This well-paced, beautiful exploration of three characters deserves a slot on the shelf of any fantasy or graphic novel fan. After reading the book, I’m even more hyped for the Netflix adaptation. Here’s to hoping it’s a good one.