Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, New York, NY : HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2015]

Imagine a world where medieval knights go head to head with mustache-twirling supervillains, shapeshifters face-off against scientific experiments, and beneath its quirky, Monty Python-esque exterior nothing is as it seems.  This is the setting of Nimona.

Ballister Blackheart sulks in his lair, planning missions to subvert The Institute of Law Enforcement of Heroics only to be stopped time and time again by his arch nemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Then, in comes Nimona, a chubby girl with short red hair, who volunteers to be Blackheart’s sidekick.  Nimona is a shape-shifter.  She tells Blackheart that she learned how to change form after being cursed by a witch and now she wants to do something with this magic. Blackheart begrudgingly accepts Nimona’s offer, but soon ends up in over his head.  He does not know what to do with a shapeshifting, bloodthirsty kid who has never played a board game, gone to a festival, or planned a mission without red crayon blood splatters.  Blackheart is a supervillain, not a father!  Stopping Nimona from going on a killing spree and worrying about her when she disappears or gets hurt every other mission, nearly gives him a heart attack.  That is before Nimona and Blackheart discover that the Institute’s plans are murkier than ever anticipated.

Nimona is a quirky and laugh-out-loud hilarious book, driven by the relationships between its characters.  The graphic novel started as a web comic, but its irreverent humor, colorful character designs, and surprisingly heart-touching moments lead to its print publication in 2015.  The story was then named a finalist for the National Book Award.  Judges applauded its use of fantasy stereotypes to create a vibrant world where heroes are not always brave, villains are not always evil, and appearances can deceive.

Much as Nimona’s art gains depth and complexity as tale continues, so does the story.  As Blackheart and Nimona begin to uncover secrets about the Institute’s involvement in their world, we, as readers, see behind the scenes to Sir Goldenloin’s real relationship with the Institute and his true intentions involving Blackheart.  New revelations on each page poke holes in Nimona’s original story to Blackheart about her magic, flesh out side characters, and cast heroes, villains, and those in between in new light.  These twists and turns lead the already genre-bending story to end far more seriously than it started as Nimona becomes a powerful reflection of what it means to be a monster.

The graphic novel Nimona is a fantastic read, especially for those who have never read a long-form comic before or who do not yet understand how graphic novels can convey serious symbolism, meaning, and literary merit.  The book’s words and pictures work together to immerse readers in a world of heightened humor, fantasy fun, and real-world consequences that echo long after the story is done.

Rebecca Zimmerman is the Children’s Librarian Assistant at Graham Public Library. Contact her at or 336-570-6730.