65 pages 2 hours read

N. D. Stevenson


Fiction | Graphic Novel/Book | YA | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Nimona is a young adult graphic novel created by N. D. Stevenson and published in 2015 by HarperCollins. It is based on Stevenson’s webcomic, also titled Nimona, which was published in 2012 and earned Slate magazine’s 2012 Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Web Comic of the Year. The graphic novel adaptation also received critical acclaim, earning the 2016 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: Reprint and becoming a 2015 National Book Award Finalist.

Nimona is a postmodern fairy tale. Stevenson parodies the traditional fairy tale genre and blends fantasy with elements of science fiction, such as the incorporation of futuristic technology. The novel centers on themes of good versus evil; Ambivalent Morality and Moral Dilemmas; labels and identity, specifically Shifting Identity as Queer Symbolism; and The Significance of Found Family. The narrative also includes underlying LGBTQ+ themes, such as the use of shapeshifting as an allegory for fluid identity, which through the lens of Stevenson’s experience places Nimona firmly in the category of queer literature.

The tone of the story, which does not have a narrator except in the Epilogue, is mostly lighthearted, subverting traditional fairy tale tropes to humorous effect. However, there are instances of violence and darker themes that appear as Nimona’s true nature is revealed in later parts of the book. The visual style is cartoon-like and generally colorful with simply drawn characters. The sophisticated composition and dynamic lines create a lot of movement and emotion. This style emphasizes the contrast between the apparent simplicity of this fairy tale world and its underlying complexity and moral ambivalence.

This study guide cites the 2015 Kindle edition and uses the author’s preferred name: N. D. Stevenson (he/him). Some sources published before 2020 may refer to him as “Noelle Stevenson” with different pronouns.

Plot Summary

Nimona takes place in a fantasy kingdom with subverted fairy tale tropes. The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics keeps order by training Heroes and Villains who keep balance in the world by going on quests and facing off in battle. Lord Ballister Blackheart is the designated villain in this story, and the Institution’s champion Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin is Blackheart’s former best friend turned nemesis. They trained together growing up until Goldenloin cheated at a joust, leading Blackheart to lose an arm, which Goldenloin claims was an accident. Goldenloin later reveals that the Director of the Institution fixed the joust with the intention of Goldenloin becoming the Institution’s new champion.

At the beginning of the book, Blackheart is approached by a mysterious young girl named Nimona who convinces him to hire her as his sidekick. Nimona has an unusual ability to shapeshift and her carefree, enthusiastic attitude contrasts with Blackheart’s more restrained personality. She is also impulsive, and Blackheart, who has a strong moral code, repeatedly reminds Nimona not to harm innocent civilians.

As the story progresses, Nimona encourages Blackheart to foment a new plan against the Institution. Together, they discover that the Institution has been using a forbidden poison, jaderoot, and they set out to expose its corruption to the population. While still trying to contain Nimona’s destructive impulses, Blackheart fakes an epidemic so that it can be traced back to the Institution’s use of toxic substances. The Director of the Institution first orders Goldenloin to stop Blackheart, but later insists that Nimona, whose abilities are becoming more dangerous, should be killed. Goldenloin starts to question the Institution’s practices and tries to warn Blackheart, but the Director eventually captures Nimona.

Nimona is revealed to be a legendary creature with almost limitless power, including immortality. The Director wants to weaponize her abilities. With Goldenloin’s help, Blackheart eventually saves Nimona from the Institution’s clutches, but not before Nimona splits into an uncontrollable dragon and destroys half the city. Blackheart tries to save Nimona by reconciling her rageful dragon form with her human side, but Nimona doubts his friendship because she is afraid of being betrayed. In the end, Blackheart and Goldenloin must destroy Nimona’s human and dragon forms together, seemingly killing her. However, Nimona survives and is reformed into her human form, but she does not tell anyone except Blackheart. At the end of the story, Blackheart and Goldenloin are shown together again, the Institution is dismantled, and Nimona secretly waves goodbye to Blackheart before mysteriously vanishing.