I don’t like graphic novels. I procured a copy of Nimona for my sister with no intention of reading it myself. She loved it so much I had to at least crack the cover and it had me from page 2.

The story of supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart and his shape-shifter sidekick Nimona is heartwarming and gory and horrific and hilarious. I don’t quite know how it manages to be all of those things at the same time, but it is. And I loved every second of it.

I’m not entirely comfortable with loving this book. Nimona is a bloodthirsty little savage. She straight up murders people on a regular basis. The established supervillain has higher morals than she does.

Getting the story from the villain’s point of view automatically makes the hero suspect, but Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin is shady. He blew off Blackheart’s arm after losing a jousting match to him, supposedly  by accident but most of us make it through life without accidentally maiming our best friend. Said maiming leads Blackheart down the path of villainy, but I’d say being named Blackheart kind of did that long before the jousting incident.

As it turns out, the entire thing was orchestrated by the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, who wanted Blackheart out of the way so that Goldenloin could be their champion, since he’s so easily duped.

Blackheart is not duped at all, and so launches a mission to reveal the true nature of the supposed good guys. He doesn’t make a whole lot of headway on that, but then Nimona shows up and makes herself his sidekick. Her shapeshifting powers come in very handy, but as she slowly reveals more and more powers, Blackheart begins to wonder just what he’s teamed up with.

All of the characters are delightfully three dimensional. Blackheart is a self-proclaimed villain, but he’s really not a bad guy. Goldenloin looks like the most heroic of heroes, only to be revealed as weak and susceptible. The Institution, which stands for all that is good and right, is power-hungry and corrupt. Nimona, the entertaining sidekick, is a horrifying blood-thirsty fiend.

Noelle Stevenson manages to raise and address heavy issues with a lighthearted tone. The book is rated at a third grade reading level, but it will keep any adult entertained.

I give it 5 out of 5 stars, and I don’t do it lightly. This book earned every single one.


The Dry

Jane Harper’s The Dry has gotten insanely good reviews. And I just don’t know why. It’s a fine book but there’s nothing outstanding about it.

Murder mysteries, like most established genres, have a pretty set formula. The Dry follows this formula almost to the letter. The mystery itself isn’t predictable (I didn’t figure it out), but the novel is.

Brutal murder shocks small town…check
Main character return to hometown for funeral intending to leave asap…check
Main character doesn’t leave asap…check

Aaron Falk was forced to leave town quickly as a teenager after being suspected of murder. Now he’s returned for his former best friend’s funeral, and is literally counting the hours until he can get back to Melbourne. Everyone believes that Luke murdered his wife and son before killing himself, but Luke’s parents beg Aaron to stay in town a few extra days and prove that Luke didn’t do it. Aaron reluctantly agrees, joins forces with the local cop, and faces his past while solving the mystery.

Harper does a good job of laying a trail of clues that keeps the reader guessing until the truth is revealed. It’s a solid case and the murder from Aaron’s past keeps rearing its ugly head to keep things interesting. There’s a satisfying conclusion, though it’s a bit depressing, which is only to be expected from a crime that includes the murder of a little boy. The weak point of the story was the budding romance between Aaron and Gretchen, which I really didn’t care about.

All in all, I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars. As I said, solid but not spectacular.

The Regional Office Is Under Attack!

This book had me at super-powered female assassins. Or, really, it had me at THE REGIONAL OFFICE IS UNDER ATTACK!, which is kind of hard to overlook when its sprawled in giant letters across the cover of a book covered in asterisks and lightning bolts. It looks like a fun book and it sounds like a fun story.

It lies. This book disturbed me on a rather deep level. I finished it the day after I read Nimona, which didn’t help since they both have startling similar premises. What do you do when an organization dedicated to doing good turns out to have corrupt leaders? Who do you cheer for when the splinter group fighting back against the corruption turns out to be kind of corrupt itself?

Who do you cheer for when both sides and right and both sides are wrong?

Manuel Gonzales wrote a fantastic book. The characters are well done, the story is well paced, the prose is well-written. And yet I kind of wish I hadn’t read it. I want a hero to cheer for. I want a villain to hate. I don’t want to feel torn between two heroines who are remarkably similar and both duped by their respective leadership.

I like books that make me happy. Books that affirm that good always wins and that things have a way of working out in the end and that people have a natural tendency to do the right thing. But we need books like this. As unsettling as I found The Regional Office Is Under Attack! I think everyone should read it.

Because our world is very gray. We like to think that we are the heroes and those who don’t agree with us are villains, but it doesn’t really work like that. Most of us are just trying to do what we think it best and hope we don’t hurt too many people in the process. If you’re a super-powered assassin, that’s a but harder to do, but most of them still try.

Manuel Gonzales makes you see both sides of a battle where nobody wins and you realize how much better it would have been if people had just been honest with each other and become friends and joined forces to fight against the real villains.

Sarah and Rose never got that chance. It’s kind of depressing and I don’t really like depressing books. But it makes you think, and more people need to take some time to think about how their story looks from the opposite point of view. To realize that the world is not black and white but full of all kinds of murky gray areas. To look beyond the person who doesn’t agree with you and try to find the real villain and discover a way we can settle our differences peacefully and then go after them.

The Regional Office Is Under Attack! is not the fun book I thought it would be. It’s pretty bloody and light on the humor and dissatisfying in its resolution. Somehow it still gets 4 out of 5 stars from me.