Review – Nimona (Noelle Stevenson)

Keywords: fiction, graphic novel, Year 7+, fantasy, politics, good vs. evil, action, fights, humour, bittersweet, villainy, fun!

Graphic novels have a bad reputation. Some people say that they aren’t ‘real books’ or that they aren’t as complex as ‘real literature’. Well, let me be the one to tell you that that’s all poppycock, gobbledygook, and just plain nonsense!

Nimona with dragon wings!

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is more than a graphic novel. This is a book about heroes and villains; it is a story where you choose who is a hero and who is a villain. Technically, the main characters – Ballister Blackheart and his spunky sidekick Nimona – are the ‘villains’. That’s what the whole city calls them anyway (and it doesn’t help that Blackheart has a black goatee and a secret science lair, while Nimona is literally a murderous shapeshifter). Blackheart is a loner who never planned to get a sidekick, so imagine his surprise when some random girl who calls herself ‘Nimona’ comes into his lair and tells him she is his sidekick now. For some reason.

Although Blackheart isn’t too excited about having a sudden sidekick, Nimona begins to grow on him. After all, she’s a shapeshifter! Imagine how much her powers would help with Blackheart’s evil schemes! There is a bit of a problem, though. You see, while Blackheart is technically the boss and supposed to be evil or whatever, Nimona is…actually way more violent and malicious. Like, take a look at this scene in Chapter 2:

(Page 1 transcription: Blackheart, “We’ll attack the city using my genetically modified dragons. The king will be attending the parade downtown. Our dragons will swoop down and kidnap him. I’ll announce our ransom demands from the top of the tallest tower. Then we’ll fly off with the king, detonating the tower behind us for emphasis.” Nimona, “Hmm. Not bad. Nice touch with the explosion. However, I do have a few suggestions. Here, I’ll show you.”)

(Page 2 transcription: Nimona, “We could do with more general chaos. I’m talking fire everywhere. We’ll murder the king in front of everyone. Then you crown yourself the new king. And since Goldenloin is sure to try and stop us, I’ll disguise myself to get close to him and take him out before he knows what’s happening!” Blackheart, “No. That is not how I work. You can’t just go around murdering people. There are RULES, Nimona.”)

What do we find out from this scene? Well, Nimona has no problem murdering people, while Blackheart – the guy who’s supposed to be incredibly evil – has ‘rules’. He doesn’t find joy in murdering people. Doesn’t sound too evil to me.

An accurate depiction of the relationship between Blackheart, Nimona, and Goldenloin.

As the story continues, we find out more about Blackheart and Nimona’s different kinds of evilness. It’s actually really interesting how both characters are considered villains and yet they have such different ways of showing it. Meanwhile, there are also ‘heroes’ who fight against them. The main ‘hero’ is named Goldenloin: a blond guy who used to be Blackheart’s best friend when they were both training to be knights. He works for the government who are supposedly the ‘good guys’. Whether or not they’re actually nice people is up to you. Personally, I’m not a big fan.

The book itself is a lovely read! It was very easy to get lost inside the story and read the whole thing in one sitting. But don’t get me wrong: it was easy to read, but that doesn’t make the story simplistic. Actually, the story and its characters are some of the most nuanced and fascinating I’ve encountered for a long while. I read the book a few times in a row to really grasp all the themes and concepts it tackles. Honestly, I think this would be a great book to study in class – maybe in a Year 7+ class about war and politics. There’s some great stuff in this book to explore academically: the concept of good vs. evil, morality, political corruption, protests, what it means to work for ‘the greater good’, friendship, and, of course, love. Because isn’t every great story about love, in the end?

Nimona shapeshifting as the science-loving Blackheart

Also, here was what I was thinking when I finished the book: WHAT AN ENDING. WOW. Reading through the climax genuinely made my heart race. I was so scared for everyone’s safety! I don’t want to spoil anything though, so just know that it’s a wonderfully fitting ending for the story. It’s the type of ending that makes you admire the author’s writing skills while also inspiring you to write a story just like it! It’s not sugar-coated and overly sweet, but it’s not horribly depressing either. It strikes the perfect balance of bittersweetness!

So. Can this book be recommended? Well, I know that Jenny is 100% obsessed with this book and will gladly tell the whole world about how much she loves it! And Felipe is a huge fan of it too, especially the magical elements of the story! With these two kitties recommending it, I cannot help but recommend it too. (But is it really that surprising after I’ve written a whole review talking about how great this story is?) So go ahead and read it if it sounds like your cup of tea!

Review – Kiki’s Delivery Service (Eiko Kadono)

Keywords: fiction, ages 8+, fantasy, slice of life, light-hearted, coming of age/growing up, 13-year-old female protagonist, talking animal sidekick, magic, quirky, funny, inspired a movie!

When you see a movie before reading the book it’s based on, it can change what you expect from the book. I first saw Kiki’s Delivery Service as a film when I was a kid. It’s one of my favourite movies ever and I’ve watched it dozens, maybe even hundreds of times! So when I picked up the original book Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono (and translated from Japanese to English by Emily Balistrieri), all I could think about was the movie. How similar is the movie to the book? What things did the movie leave out from the original story?

The front cover.

Comparing the book to the film is fun, but it can be a little unfair. After all, the book deserves to be read and enjoyed for its own niceness, not because it happened to inspire a nice movie! So, I will try to talk about the book first – only the book.

The story starts with Kiki, a witch just about to turn 13. To be a proper witch, she needs to have a ‘coming-of-age day’: a tradition where 13-year-old witches go and live in a different town for a year and survive on their own magic. There’s a problem with magic, though. Over the years, witches have lost their knowledge of certain skills and spells. So now there are very few magical skills left. For example, Kiki’s mother Kokiri can make magical medicine (like her famous sneeze potion!), but she’s actually the last witch left in the world who knows how to do this properly. And while Kokiri tried to teach Kiki how to make magical medicine, the young girl hates it. Instead, Kiki has one magical skill that she truly loves: flying on her broomstick.

Kiki flying away from her hometown.

While she flies and does her magic, Kiki is accompanied by her little black cat Jiji. Kiki and Jiji grew up together and are constant companions. The wonderful thing is that Jiji can talk…but only to Kiki! Everyone else just hears meows. How amazing would it be to talk to cats and have them talk to you? I want to be a witch now!

So, Kiki and Jiji fly off to find a new town to live in. All Kiki wants is to see the sea for the very first time, so she looks for a town close to the ocean. And luckily, she finds one! The town of Koriko (lots of ‘K’ words in this book!) is a big seaside town with no witch living there yet. The rest of the story is about Kiki’s adventures in the town as she lives there (on her own!) for a whole year.

Kiki’s adventures are really fun to read! You see, this clever witch decides to run her own business – a delivery service, of course! So basically she flies around the town to deliver random things to people. And when I say ‘random things’, I mean it. I don’t want to spoil too much, but here are just a couple of things Kiki delivers:

Kiki on an average delivery.

– A trumpet

– A pair of underpants

– A pacifier

– New Year’s Eve

I won’t tell you how or why she delivered any of these things; you’ll need to find out for yourself!

So, what was it like reading this book? In a word: magical. I really enjoyed following Kiki’s growth into a true witch as she helped people around the town. My favorite part of the book was the characters, especially the two kids Kiki meets in Koriko. One is a boy who is obsessed with airplanes and looks like a dragonfly. The other is a girl who has interesting strategies when she wants to give a present to a boy she likes. It’s fun to see how Kiki interacts with kids her age, because it shows you just how different we can be from each-other. Just because you’re the same age as someone doesn’t mean you’re exactly the same!

I’d say the only thing I didn’t like too much was the book’s pacing (how quickly the story goes). Kiki arrives at the town, we’re told about some of her deliveries, then BAM! It has been a full year and pretty much the end of the book! I would have liked to hear more about her life during that one year.

Here’s the thing: there is a way to learn more about Kiki’s adventures and read about her life. There are actually sequels! However, we cannot read them – unless you’re fluent in Japanese. Yup, none of the other books in the Kiki’s Delivery Service series has been translated to English! Only the first one! So if anyone reading this review is fluent in Japanese, please read the other Kiki books and tell me about them. I’m super curious about what she does next!

By the time I finished reading the story, I completely forgot about the movie version. Both are really nice in their own ways and I recommend both!

This book has fantasy elements to it (of course! there’s a witch in it, after all!), but it’s also a slice-of-life sort of story. So, both fantasy fanatic Felipe and slice-of-life lover Jenny adore Kiki’s Delivery Service!