Sir Ballister Blackheart is the resident villain. And like all resident villains, he has a backstory that totally explains how he went from a promising knight in training to a mad scientist. And like all resident villains, he often finds his brilliant plans foiled by the resident hero, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin.
That is, until the mysterious Nimona shows up. Nimona is a shapeshifter and an agent of chaos who dramatically increases Blackheart’s effectiveness while also ramping up the destruction factor. As Nimona and Blackheart tag-team to defeat his archnemesis, the shadowy Institution that runs everything, it soon becomes clear that they might not be the most villainous characters in the land after all. . . .
I’ve had several people recommend this graphic novel (which started as a webcomic) to me over the years, the most recent being Jen. Thanks for the great recommendation, Jen! It’s an engaging book with a snappy pace that can easily be read in one sitting. In fact, it’s hard to put down.
One of the most delightful aspects is how it tweaks traditional fantasy tropes. I frequently found myself laughing out loud at the witty dialogue, absurd situations, and satire. In many ways, it reminded me of a fantasy graphic novel version of the Western comedy film Rustler’s Rhapsody. Both poke fun at a well-worn genre but do so with a great deal of affection for the material.
That being said, Nimona is not all fun and games. It also delves into some surprisingly serious plot points, which are also well-handled. The change in tone doesn’t seem abrupt, and there are still some fun moments once things take a darker turn.
Another area where it really shines is its characterization. Nimona relies on well-worn tropes for its characters (villain, hero, sidekick) and subverts them in a way that makes everyone a lot more interesting and complex than they originally seem, even that golden boy hero Goldenloin.
The story has a lot of action scenes, as one would expect, though occasionally I found them a little hard to follow. Therefore, I found that the quieter moments that established character personalities and/or added humor were actually the most effective. My favorite? Nimona and Blackheart decide to take some R and R (villainy is stressful, you know) to watch a zombie movie, and Blackheart ruins the experience because he cannot stop providing nonstop commentary on the plotholes.
The artwork is not as conventionally striking as some of the other graphic novels I’ve read, but it perfectly matches the tone of the story and the characters. The facial expressions especially on Blackheart and Nimona are priceless. The world is an oddball fusion of medieval fantasy and the modern world (video games and jousts exist side-by-side), and the artwork also does a good job of establishing the setting and atmosphere. I found the worldbuilding intriguing enough that I wouldn’t have minded more opportunities to delve into this quirky world.
If you like any combination of fantasy graphic novels, satire, villains, and shapeshifters, this book is for you!
*Ebook also available on Libby.
Recommended for those who enjoy Terry Pratchett.
What’s your favorite graphic novel? Do you enjoy a good tale of villainy? What’s your favorite and least favorite trope? Tell us in the comments! And as always, check out this link to our online library catalog to learn more about any item and place holds.
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