Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Review 2015 #8 - Noelle Stevenson's Nimona

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Lord Ballister Blackheart has always felt he's doing his best as a villain considering he never intended to be one. Back when he was training with the kingdom's fated hero and his dearest friend, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, everything seemed so simple. But the loss of his arm changed his destiny. His destiny is about to change again when a shapeshifter, Nimona, shows up on his doorstep and informs him that she is to be his new sidekick; and yes he doesn't have a say in the matter. Nimona has radical ideas about what a villain should do, all of which seem drastic to Blackheart. Who even heard of a villain succeeding in their plots? Or leaving death and destruction in their wake? His name could actually be feared! But as Ambrosius points out to Blackheart, is this what he really wants? Nimona is changing everything. She's impulsive and her powers defy explanation, yet as she's breaking down doors in Blackheart's home, sigh, she's breaking down walls around his heart; and for the first time, in a very long time, he has someone to care for. Though it's information that Blackheart and Nimona uncover on one of their raids against the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics that really changes the game. The Institute, the upholders of good and the banishers of evil are up to no good! They are experimenting with the dangerous jaderoot and putting the entire kingdom in danger. It is up to Blackheart and Nimona to bring this deceit to light! Using plans with phases and science!  

We all grow up listening to fairy tales. They are the first stories we hear. Told over and over again when we are little they become a part of our DNA. We learn valuable lessons about listening to our parents and never taking candy from strangers, especially if they look like they might be a witch in disguise with a suspiciously large oven. We grow up believing that the line between good and evil is clear-cut. That the knight will always save the maiden fair from the evil dragon and win her hand. We grow up expecting to get out happily ever after. And as we get older we still love these tales, we read re-interpretations and re-tellings. We devour YA books that are just repackaging the old stories in new ways, all the while waiting for the prince to come for us, because someday he will come. Yet deep down the message hasn't really changed. We are just getting the same lesson in a different way. And you know what? For the most part what fairy tales teach us is wrong. They were written to keep children in line and teach women to know their place, which is mainly in the kitchen. I'm sorry, but my happily ever after doesn't involve a sink, thank you very much. This is where Nimona comes in. This book might be fairy tales turned upside down and inside out, but this inversion is closer to the truth than you get in the traditional tales.

Because the truth is the distinction between good and evil is never clear cut. People don't usually have the honorific "evil" placed before their name, because that would make things so much easier. Life is countless shades of grey, and there's no getting around this fact. Just look to politics or the police, they are supposed to be here for the good of us but can you think of a more concentrated source of corruption? The police in fact pose far more of a threat to citizens than murderers. But of course this again isn't a blanket statement, even within these groups supposed to protect us there are those who do their jobs just as there are those who don't. Shades of grey people. This muddying of the waters is where Nimona really forges a connection between the narrative and the reader. Despite being about shapeshifters and one-armed science loving villains, there is this relatable truth at the center. The villain doesn't want to be a villain, not really, and the hero really thinks that he is doing good while oblivious to what is going on around him. While the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, while they do enforce the laws, there experimentation isn't so much heroic and horrific. They aim to keep the peace through subjugation, something none of their citizens want. Is it therefore any surprise that slowly Blackheart becomes heroic to the oppressed? Shades of grey can lead to the most unlikely of heroes.

But are heroes made or born? Blackheart thought he would be a hero but one accident forever derailed his life. He defeated the golden boy, but with the loss of a limb he was typecast as the villain, despite the fact that it was the "hero" who took said limb. Nimona explores preconceptions on so many levels. Names and physiognomy and preconceptions and prejudice and fear make a hero or villain, more so than actions. The easiest way I can explain this is how it relates to me personally. I try to be upbeat and content as much as I can, but let's face it, I can be grumpy and grumbly. There is nothing that annoys me more than when I'm in this dour mood to have someone say "why are you angry?" They aren't asking IF I'm angry, they are stating that I AM, when I'm not! This in fact MAKES me angry. I wasn't angry before but being assumed to be makes it so. I become what people say I am. If I'm told this enough it becomes a part of me because I start to see myself through their eyes. I become an angry person when I never set out to be one. Now imagine if you are told you are a villain. Would you become one if you were constantly told you were? Or what about Nimona? How many times did she have to be told she was a monster before she decided to be one? Preconceptions and statements can turn you into something you never wanted to be. Words can hurt and make you do actions that you regret and trying to change back, to make people forget their preconceptions, can be the hardest thing ever.

The weighty topics aren't the only success of this book, though technically this could be a weighty topic too... What surprised me most was the successful combination of science and sorcery, or modern in the medieval if you would. Who would have ever thought that these two could cohabitate peacefully together? Yes, there's a certain amount of potions and herbalism that is associated with the days of yore and armor and King Arthur, but advanced science? Oh no. Look even to Harry Potter, electricity, computers, modern medicine like stitches are a world apart. These two disciplines are usually like oil and water, never the twain shall meet. But here they meet and clash and form something new and awesome. Robotic arms, special armor, experiments with deadly poisons to make super soldiers work with those robotic arms actually wielding swords! And then there's Nimona at the heart of it. If this wasn't a world that combined science and sorcery she would have been stoned as a witch and that would have been the end of her life and we would have missed out because we wouldn't have gotten to hear her story. Instead, because science exists, she is experimented on, she is a lab rat to further this science and therefore has hidden depths and emotions and reasons that Blackheart could never have ever guessed at. Seriously, science!

Though none of this awesomeness would have entered my life if not for Rainbow Rowell. The only reason I picked up Fangirl in the first place, prior to all the buzz, was because I loved the cover. A cover done by Noelle Stevenson. A few months back I was at my local comic store picking up my backlog of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and Faith comics when I spied Lumberjanes Volume 1: The Kitty Holy. I instantly recognized Noelle Stevenson's style and wanted to buy it. Being on a very tight budget I instead went home and reserved it through the library where I saw she had another book called Nimona, so I reserved that as well. After quite a long time, Noelle's books had some serious wait lists yo, I got my two books and got snugly in my reading chair and set to. Lumberjanes was a serious disappointment. I had all manner of dislike almost bordering on hate for that comic. Yes, I know I'm in the minority here, but I don't like it and nothing you can say will change my mind. At least the second volume was better with less typos and I'll leave it at that. Because of this setback I really didn't expect much from Nimona and it blew me away. How could these two books be done by the same author? Is it the coauthors fault? And it wasn't a case of "last worst book I read" wherein anything you read next will be awesome, because I re-read Nimona once I bought my own copy back to back with two other awesome books and it might actually have been even better. So just go out and buy it already, it will save you having a long wait to get it from the library and then having to buy your own copy anyway.


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