Claire: Hello, and welcome to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Paperbacks, a cheerful and irreverent book club podcast all about genre fiction, fandom, and the things that make us happy.
Claire: I’m Claire.
Chelsea: I’m Chelsea.
Kay: And I’m Kay.
[Malt Shop Bop by Kevin Macleod plays]
Claire: At the moment, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to read over the, uh, Christmas holidays —
Chelsea: Okay. Mmhmm.
Claire: — you know, this whole dilemma of what do you take —
Chelsea: Take with you?
Claire: — in your suitcase if you are going home for Christmas. Because, obviously, I want to take all the things.
Claire: But I’m probably just gonna take my Kindle, because I have a lot ARCs on there, a lot of review copies from publishers.
Claire: And also, just, books that I have bought throughout the year and not gotten to. And I also have a lot of shorter stuff, short fiction, which I want to get to because I would like to finish my, uh, Goodreads goal and I’m quite far behind. The Thing that I’m, um, reading right now, though, is this adorable middle grade crime series called Murder Most Unladylike. And it’s a series I’ve been following for a while because the uh, the author did NaNoWriMo in London one year, so I know her. And, uh, it’s just the most adorable murder-y thing ever. It is so great. It’s set in the 1930s. It starts in this, uh, very proper girls’ boarding school in the UK and we have two best friends, Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, and they have a detective agency. And they solve crime together and yeah. The fifth book, which I’m reading right now is called Mistletoe and Murder.
Claire: And it’s a Christmas-themed murder that happens in Cambridge, at the university. So we have one murder in the school, one murder that’s like a locked room mystery in a very proper British mansion, another one that’s on the Orient Express, and uh, another murder at the school. And this one is just like Cambridge and Christmas-y and it’s wonderful. And I’m getting the first book in the series in French for my niece for Christmas, so I’m super excited for her to get into that as well.
Chelsea: Oh, that sounds like a great gift. That’s awesome.
Claire: And also Nimona, the book we’re reading today.
Claire: So that’s, like, my ‘I’m a great auntie’ points for this year.
Chelsea: Yeah, those are great choices. Alright, well I am currently…reading right now is weird for me. ‘Cause my type A brain doesn’t wanna read anything that’s gonna throw off my end of year stats. [laughter]
Kay: Fair. Fair.
Chelsea: So, nothing that I’m gonna, like, log. So there’s one book that I’m finishing up and that is It by Stephen King, which I started reading in October.
Claire: Oh, wow.
Chelsea: But that book is literally like a thousand pages long. In the mass market paperback.
Kay: It’s almost as long as The Stand, for Stephen King people.
Chelsea: It’s huge.
Kay: Like, it’s huge. [laughs]
Chelsea: And I finally hit 800 pages last night. So I’m, like, 80% done. So I’m gonna finish by Christmas.
Kay: Now remind me what format you’re consuming that in.
Chelsea: Mass market paperback.
Kay: Oh, god. Okay. [laughs]
Chelsea: Yes. It’s huge.
Kay: That is huge. So it’s hard to haul around with you.
Chelsea: Yeah. Like it’s. And that’s part of the problem, is that it hasn’t been hauled around with me, it’s been my at home book. And that’s, like, where I get the least amount of reading time because I’m just busy doing other shit while I’m at home. [laughs] But —
Kay: The audiobook of that is great, if other people are considering reading that.
Kay: And much more portable. So. [laughs]
Chelsea: Oh, yes. I’m currently second in line on hold for the audiobook, which I also did in October. So apparently lots of people in the greater Kansas City area are wanting to listen to It on audio right now. So. Who knew? [laughs] But, yeah. It’s very disconcerting. Uh, a creepy clown book in October feels way more fitting —
Chelsea: — than a creepy clown book at Christmas.
Chelsea: But, like —
Kay: And yet. Still great. Still Great.
Chelsea: — it’s great, I love Stephen King. His version of small town horror just, like, is right up my alley. I love everything he does. So I’m really enjoying it. Um, but then, to counterbalance that, I am eight chapters into a ten chapter non-magical modern day au Harry Potter ot3 —
[Kay muffles a laugh]
Chelsea: — featuring James, Sirius, and Lily.
[Claire makes a distress noise]
Chelsea: It’s called Brave Hearts by soliloquize and I love it really hard.
Kay: I think you just named Claire’s notp. [giggles]
Chelsea: Yeah, that’s fine, Claire. We’ll throw down later.
Claire: No, no, no, no, no, no, my —
Chelsea: We’ll throw down when it’s not gonna add another twenty minutes to this podcast, but like, we can go for that, for sure.
Claire: It’s a very simple thing. Like, any, anything that features either Sirius Black or Remus Lupin should have them be together or it’s a notp for me.
Chelsea: That’s fair. I can see if, like, wolfstar is your primary ship how you would not wanna go, like, messing with that in any kind of format.
Claire: It was my first otp.
Kay: I mean, that’s fair.
Kay: So, I do track my fic reading and I’m looking at my reading log right now. And I. I think I’m on track to read 80,000,000 words of fanfiction this year. [laughs]
[Claire laughs hysterically]
Chelsea: That’s disgusting. Like, it’s awesome.
Chelsea: But that’s a disgustingly large amount of anything to read.
Chelsea: That’s so awesome.
Kay: Like, if you do the math, or something, that’s an extra 200-something books, basically, worth of reading.
Claire: That is great.
Kay: Which is fine.
Chelsea: Which is insane.
Kay: I think I’m gonna end up reading like 150 books this year.
Claire: I’m thinking about logging my fics for 2017, actually.
Chelsea: I’m going to.
Kay: Do it. It makes me feel a lot better about my book numbers. [laughs]
Chelsea: I wanna add my fic reading and then also the short story stuff that I do. Because I read a lot of, like, random shorts —
Kay: Oh, I can’t.
Chelsea: — from random SFF websites and I need to get better at keeping track of them.
Kay: So for my reading right now, I’m continuing on with Men Fail at Everything: A Space Opera and I am [laughs] I’m on the third book. Abaddon’s Gate. Abaddon’s Gate? I dunno, the audiobook said it weird. I’m not sure. It’s by James SA Corey, it’s that same space opera series I was reading before.
Chelsea: Is that the third book?
Kay: It’s the third one. So I’ve read the first two, now. Um…it’s going okay so far. I think the start was a little slow, but not nearly as slow as Leviathan Wakes. So. I’m excited still. And I am also finally finishing…I’ve had A Closed and Common Orbit on my to-read, by Becky Chambers, on my to-read for, like, ever and I’m actually the person who requested it at my library. And I didn’t manage to finish it before I finished my initial hold on it.
Kay: So, I’m finally getting to read that and I’m really excited.
Chelsea: It’s so good, Kay. It’s so good.
Kay: I mean, the first book —
Chelsea: I’m so excited for you to finish it so we can talk about it.
Kay: Right? The first book was one of my top, like, five reads of last year .
Chelsea: Oh, absolutely.
Kay: So I’m assuming I’m gonna love it. And if I don’t love it we’ll just not talk about it, it’s fine.
Chelsea: No. You’re gonna love it.
Chelsea: Like, I will vouch for that. If you don’t love it, I really don’t think this podcast can continue. Like, if you thought coffee was the breaking point? I feel like this is where we’re gonna have to draw the line.
Kay: We can no longer be friends. Friendship over.
Chelsea: [laughs] Like, I’m sorry. Friendship terminated.
Chelsea: That’s a line we just can’t cross together. I’m sorry.
Kay: We need to have that discussion at some point, about like, are there any books where you’re like ‘we can’t be friends anymore if you don’t like this.’ ‘Cause I think everybody has that one. Where you’re like ‘I dunno, man.’
Chelsea: I dunno, man. Not to end, like, a friendship. There are some where if you don’t like this I might start to seriously question your taste? [laughs]
Kay: Taste, yep.
Chelsea: And, like, how good your tastes are. But I don’t know if there’s anything where, like —
Kay: See, my that one is definitely To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.
Kay: If you don’t like that book I’m like ‘I don’t know if I can recommend things to you.’
Claire: I’m not sure that I’ve read that. You know what happened? What happened is that I read The Doomsday Book and I was like ‘I want to die everything is so miserable.’
Kay: It’s so long and depressing.
Chelsea: They are very different, Claire.
Claire: I was like ‘I’m gonna take a Connie Willis break.’
Kay: They’re both beautifully written.
Chelsea: But, like, all of the creepy germs and bad feelings that Doomsday Book gives you? To Say Nothing of the Dog erases them with, like, fun boating trips down rivers.
Kay: Adorable animals.
Chelsea: And like, crazy shenanigans with, like, time travel and a lost kitten. Like, it’s just so —
Claire: Alright, alright. I will read it.
Chelsea: I didn’t know anything about it when I started. This is just randomly delightful in that best, British drawing room comedy kind of way. I enjoyed it.
Kay: Connie Willis and I are not on good terms right now, ‘cause she was talking shit about romance and her new book was not great, but, like, To Say Nothing of the Dog is always one of my favorite things to recommend to people. Oh, I also just, I almost never read category romance —
Claire: I’m not sure what category romance means.
Kay: Oh! That’s awesome! Okay. [laughs] So, category romance is a thing, I think Mills & Boon does it, too, Harlequin. They have, like, set categories where they follow sort of certain tropes and themes. So there’s, like, the suspense line and the more erotic romance line and the kind of Christian romance-y line.
Chelsea: It helps booksellers and librarians categorize and metadata all their stuff correctly.
Chelsea: So, like, it’s a romance book, but if it’s a suspense romance or like a fantasy romance it’ll go in a different place than just romance with a capital R.
Kay: So it’s both a marketing and a genre definition tool. I guess.
Kay: I don’t know, like, the best way to define it.
Chelsea: ‘Cause, like, and correct me if I’m wrong, Kay. But probably most romance novels that you’re thinking of would be considered category romance. Right?
Kay: When people are talking shit about romance, ‘the stuff you see at the grocery store’s such garbage,’ like when you see people throwing down about that, they’re usually talking about category romance. Which, they’re being very unfair.
Kay: But that is where that, like, perception comes from. Which is totally unfair. Um, the only reason I don’t read a ton of them is that they’re just shorter than I usually like. But the Superromance line from Harlequin is longer. Um, and this one is called, ‘cause I am terrible at remembering names, it’s called All I Have by Nicole Helm. And it’s the first thing I have ever read by her, so I cannot vouch for the quality of anything else, but it’s. It was adorable. And it was, like, about two, um, small family farmers who fall in love being nemeses at a farmer’s market. And I’m, like, I’m so weak to that. How was was I not supposed to like that?
Chelsea: That is just the cutest thing.
Claire: I read a fic that does that and I loved it.
Kay: It was super cute. And, like, the…the heroine is a twenty-six-year-old virgin and she’s like ‘I wasn’t waiting for anything specific, I just wanted to sleep with someone who I actually liked.’ So they don’t, like, wait too long to have sex, because she does want to have sex, but it was all handled very well. And I liked it a lot. And that’s everything I’ve been reading.
Kay: Other than Nimona!
Chelsea: Nimona! Alright, so then, should we talk —
Chelsea: — about Nimona?
[Malt Shop Bop by Kevin MacLeod plays]
Kay: So today we’re talking about Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. It is a graphic novel that is written, lettered, art, colored, she did everything herself. Which, if you’re not super into comics, you may not know that isn’t actually very common. A lot of times there’s someone who just writes and someone who does the various different parts of the art, including lettering is often done by someone else. So, I kind of adore that she does it herself and it’s a very distinctive style. Um, it started out as a school project, which I think is amazing. She started it her junior year and it ended up being her senior thesis. And it was a webcomic. So, you do definitely see a transition in style from the beginning to the end of this. I do also want to talk about her art style, because it’s very particular.
Claire: Well, what I would say about, like, whenever we do comics in future —
Claire: — is that the art style is so particular and subjective. Like, it might, you know.
Kay: It might not be someone’s jam. Yeah.
Claire: You’re never gonna say this. You’re never gonna say this is. You know, even if it’s very well drawn you may not like it.
Claire: So, we can say we like it, but I don’t think it’s worth spending, like, ages discussing it, you know?
Chelsea: Well, yeah, there’s like. ‘Cause there’s, like, ‘do you like it?’ and there’s like, ‘does it fit the story and aid in the storytelling?’ ‘Cause like, in this, I think in this case it does both.
Claire: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Totally.
Chelsea: And it does both really well. ‘Cause probably, like, my one quibble about it is that the beginning is a little rough. Like, you can tell in the beginning it was a webcomic.
Kay: She started it as a junior year of college project, like that was the advent of.
Chelsea: And you can see the development. It’s not even that the beginning is bad.
Kay: Stylistic changes as you go through, yeah.
Chelsea: But the style changes as you go through the comic that by the time you get to the end, I just, I feel like her art style matches the tone —
Chelsea: — and stuff of the graphic novel a lot more.
Claire: Yeah, and I also feel —
Chelsea: But I just love Nimona. As a person.
Kay: I love everyone.
Kay: They’re all great.
Claire: But I feel like that’s a thing that happens in a lot of different, uh, webcomics that I follow. Is that, you can see the art style changing and it’s not necessarily bad when you start, but it’s one of the pleasures of reading a webcomic on a regular basis.
Claire: I came to Nimona when it was already a book that everyone was talking about and saying how great it was. But, there are webcomics that you fellow and when you go back and read backwards and you’re like ‘oh, this has changed so much’ and, and, and it’s much more defined now. It’s one of the things I like about webcomics. It’s so interesting when you go and look at the fic, you’ve got people posting in 2013 and going, like, when we are in book waiting land, here have some fic. And I’m like oh, that’s a bit of context I don’t have.
Claire: You know?
Claire: Waiting for the epilogue.
Chelsea: The general plot of Nimona features the titular character, our shapeshifting Nimona, becoming the, um, sidekick and kind of villain-in-training to Lord Blackheart. Lord Ballister Blackheart, more specifically, who is, as I said, the supervillain and arch nemesis to Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. And the entirety of Nimona first starts covering various adventures she has with Ballister as Ballister is thwarted by Ambrosius Goldenloin, over and over again. And we see them have many shenanigans. We see development of a backstory between Ambrosius and Ballister, where they were at hero-in-training school. And, throughout the book, and towards the end of the book, we start to learn more about Nimona and her background as a shapeshifter. How she became a shapeshifter. And then, essentially, um, how she kind of reconciles her shapeshifting nature to her desire for villainy. And when we end the book — well. Do we wanna go. Do we wanna go that far?
Claire: I mean, it is like a spoilery podcast, isn’t it?
Chelsea: Totally spoil it? Yeah. I mean. That’s very true. Um. So, essentially, by the end of the book we see, uh, Ballister and Goldenloin, um, kind of reunited and Nimona has, essentially, transformed into her true self and has left them both behind to go off and, uh, pursue, essentially, her own adventures. Kinda take off and stop being someone else’s sidekick and start being, uh, the star of her own story.
Kay: It’s perfectly bittersweet, as an ending.
Claire: So beautiful.
Chelsea: Yes. It is perfectly bittersweet. We get happy endings…I would say we get happy endings for everyone, if not necessarily the endings we thought we were going to get.
Chelsea: That about covers the general plot, but of course there’s so much more to the story.
Kay: So much going on. Especially with visual storytelling, even if something’s not part of the main plot, you could go through all of the subplots, even, and you’re not going to pick up everything on one read.
Chelsea: Oh, yeah. This is definitely a graphic novel that is well served by rereading it more than once.
Chelsea: Which is easy to do, because it’s really cute, the art style is adorable, it’s not necessarily a complex comic, but there’s definitely a lot going on.
Claire: There’s definitely a lot of tension in it. I was surprised when I reread it, because I kind of remembered the main gist of it, but there were definitely bits that I’d forgotten that, you know, jokes that I’d forgotten, that made me laugh again. And I was reading this, you know, on my commute into work and then back, which is not necessarily when you can get the most into something.
Claire: And I was so on the edge of my seat.
Chelsea: Yeah. [laughs]
Claire: When they get into a bit more conflict later on in the story.
Claire: It’s just incredible how tense it gets and how high the stakes are.
Chelsea: And it does a really good job of playing with that traditional, like, fairytale structure in its narrative. Of, kind of, subverting the hero versus villain kind of classical structure that we get. And it really brings up questions of, like, what does it mean to be a villain and what does it mean to want to be a villain? Um, because Nimona struggles a lot with wanting to be…I guess I shouldn’t say struggles. She wants to be a villain and she starts to question why it is that she has that desire so strongly.
Claire: Yeah, she deals a lot with her own anger issues. And partly that’s because she sees Ballister as a villain in, in a very different way than he sees himself. He’s very much like ‘well, that’s the role I’ve been given. That’s what I’m going to do.’ Um, but, he’s not a villain in the sense that she assumes he is when she first comes in as his sidekick and she kind of struggles to understand him and why he does things. So, that I really enjoyed.
Kay: Yeah, he’s really much more of a mad scientist than anything else. And, kind of only a mad scientist because he’s sort of been shoved into that box because his hero days were ended before they really could begin. By someone who was supposed to be his best friend! I have a lot of feelings about this comic, guys.
Chelsea: Yeah. I have a lot of feelings about that. Well, and that’s part of it, too. You know, obviously, in the kind of metanarrative we’re given, this Ambrosius Goldenloin is a prototypical hero. You know, he literally, his name is goddamn Goldenloin, I mean.
Kay: He has super fabulous shiny blond hair. Yeah.
Chelsea: He’s got, like, the flowing hair and he’s very, like, he reminded me of, uh, Prince Charming from the Shrek movies.
Chelsea: Like that over the top, hypermasculine, but at the same time, like, he’s not the good guy? He’s actually a huge dick. Um, and he’s very petty and he gets really jealous and he takes a lot of —
Kay: He kind of just follows orders. He doesn’t really question things much.
Chelsea: Yeah. He’s a non-thinking entity. And the people behind him are not —
Claire: Like, he just doesn’t. He has. He has very shiny hair, but he is a bit of an idiot. And he doesn’t really understand things in the same way. He, he doesn’t really have the same instinctive moral compass that Ballister has, which is interesting because obviously he’s the one who ends up in the role of the hero. But, I guess, I would say maybe he’s more, like, lawful neutral.
Claire: And Ballister’s more like chaotic good.
Kay: Fair. That is a really fair assessment.
Chelsea: Oh, yeah. That is. Yeah. I was gonna say, I had not put it in those terms, but yeah, that’s a very fair assessment I think. Then what does Nimona become?
Kay and Claire: [in unison] Chaotic neutral.
Claire: I dunno, I feel a lot of it is her defending herself.
Chelsea: When she separates and she’s got her dragon entity side? I dunno. I just don’t know. I don’t know about that.
Claire: I feel like a lot of it is her defending herself, and I am also quite interested in, like, we’re never really told what the story of her life actually is. We don’t really know the truth. But if she’s truly a creature that’s not actually human, it’s like, can you?
Kay: You can’t put our moral restraints on then, can you?
Claire: Is the cat, in fact, evil?
Claire: No, I mean, like, if the cat swipes at you because you’ve come to close, like, you know, like, that’s not a creature, you know, that’s not on the same level as you in terms of communication. Then, you know.
Claire: And you see a lot of her anger —
Claire: — being, being triggered by fear response. Like, you know, when, when Ballister very, very like, honestly, with no further, like with no thought behind it, no bad thought behind it, says ‘oh, we can experiment to check this thing’ and she’s like ‘no, we’re not doing any experiments.’
Claire: ‘Cause I’m not a lab rat. And you can tell that’s from a bad experience.
Chelsea: Yeah. Mmhmm. Yeah, there’s definitely some almost PTSD, anxiety stuff.
Kay: She definitely has a traumatic past, that we definitely don’t ever get a real story on.
Kay: Which, I don’t blame her at all for not telling him the real story of where she came from and what happened to her.
Claire: Yeah, and I think it’s more powerful as a narrative technique.
Chelsea: I agree. And, well, I almost think it necessarily matter. It’s, it’s like, it’s good development and it’s interesting to know, but like, for whatever reason she has this anger, now we’re at the place where she has it and she has to reconcile it and work through it.
Claire: Yeah, and she might not be human, but there’s no doubting her personhood. You know? There’s no…once that’s, once that’s agreed to, once you know she’s a person, then, it’s not really, I dunno, relevant what exactly she is.
Chelsea: Yeah. She still has certain, like, there are certain parameters of respect and dignity that you treat any sentient and personhood holding entity with even if she’s not necessarily a human.
Kay: Which…the questioning her personhood and whether or not she’s human thing reminds me. This is such an amazing examination of the intersections between magic and science in SFF.
Claire: I love that.
Kay: Because it’s this weird, anachronistic amalgamation of, like, a kind of pseudo-medieval setting, but there’s also advanced technology like computers and videophones.
Chelsea: The crazy science? Yes.
Kay: And there’s glowing green things and [laughs] and they have that, what is that character’s name? The other scientist lady?
Claire: Meredith Blitzmeyer. Doctor Blitzmeyer.
Chelsea: Magical scientist.
Kay: So she is trying to harness the same power that, like, the sorcerer’s use through science.
Kay: With her glowing green thingy.
Chelsea: Well, and it’s interesting because a scientific invention is essentially what kind of stops the magic that Nimona has.
Chelsea: Like, that’s not ever really in detail explained, like, how Nimona’s shapeshifting…
Chelsea: Like, functions and how the science that stops her functions, but essentially, if we assume that she is a non-human semi-magical being, she’s then thwarted by the development of this scientific green glowing gun thing.
Kay: And even though magic exists in this world and they kind of accept that it’s just a thing, I mean, Blackheart does, at one point, get really confused by her powers. Because they know of shapeshifters, but hers doesn’t seem to be constrained by size or the normal limitations that he is aware of.
Claire: And he’s, like, talking about physics and math and how that works and where her clothes go and stuff like that. You know?
Chelsea: I mean, he literally, like, he reminds me of every person that I know that’s, like, not necessarily an SFF reader who reads it and then is like ‘but what about this? But where do her clothes go? How is she, why isn’t she then naked when she unchanges?’ And I’m just like, you’re doing, you’re just, it’s too much, man. You need to pull back.
Kay: It’s the same people who get angry about the Hulk’s shorts. You know? [laughs] Some things you just have to accept are part of the world’s canon.
Chelsea: Yeah, like, some things, like, that’s where that whole suspension of disbelief comes in. You just have to go with it. And this book plays with that. Because Ballister, as that kind of like evil scientist, has a hard time doing that.
Kay: It’s very meta. It’s very meta.
Claire: One of the things that I particularly like about the, uh, other scientist character, Dr. Meredith Blitzmeyer, is when Ballister calls her up to ask for her help he looks at her, her card that she gave him, her contact card, and it says ‘Magical Scientist’ with, like, a little star that goes to a footnote that says ‘not a witch.’
Claire: I was like, that is so perfect, you know?
Kay: Different classifications!
Chelsea: That’s why I love this comic. Because that’s such a little thing, but in that is wrapped up that idea of magic versus science and how gender plays into that and like the history of women in science and relation to witchcraft and all of that’s wrapped up in this one very funny sidenote.
Claire: And it’s one of those things that, you know, I had never really examined, but a while back, I don’t know, uh, I just realized I really, really am into all types of things that have magic studied as a science.
Claire: Every time that shows up in a book I’m like ‘yes, this is excellent.’ You know, like that series with the dragon naturalist lady? Who —
Chelsea: Oh, uh the —
Chelsea and Kay: [in unison] Marie Brennan?
Chelsea: The natural history of dragons? Those are so good.
Kay: I still need to read those.
Chelsea: Those are so good.
Claire: There’s a Pat C. Wrede series about a girl who, uh, goes and studies like magical creatures in the same way, as well. The InCryptid books that I’ve been reading.
Chelsea: Okay, so I want to switch gears a little bit. Because I want to talk Ballister and Ambrosius.
Claire: [happy sighs] Yay!
Chelsea: And how much in love they are.
Claire: So good.
Kay: I love that it’s established fairly early on that, like, you could read it as they’re just former friends, but to me it’s very obviously kind of bitter exes. From the very beginning, from their very first interaction, that was how I read that.
Chelsea: And that’s what I like about it. ‘Cause I think you can start reading it that way, but by the end it is made very textually, visually, explicitly —
Chelsea: — clear that they are in love. Like, there are like hands on cheeks, and like whispered farewells and like, it is very clearly textually coded that they are, that their relationship is a romantic one.
Claire: At some point Ballister says to, uh, Dr. Blitzmeyer she’s going, uh, Nimona is going to kill someone that I love. Or he’s going to kill her, whatever, you know, he, he phrases it that way. And I think it, it’s quite, you know, it, it, it’s not the kind of thing that straight dudes say about their straight dude friends. Because masculinity is very toxic.
Kay: Yeah, it’s not a bro thing. [laughs]
Chelsea: No, but yeah. It’s just, the level of emotion that he shows when he thinks that Ambrosius is not going to survive Nimona’s attack. Like, like you said, it goes above what would normally be, like, put across as just like ‘this is my hetero straight bro friend and I’m sad.’
Kay: Like, not knocking the power of male friendship, we’re not saying that. But this is very clearly coded.
Chelsea: No! But there are ways that is put across, that it’s just a friendship thing, and this narrative explicitly goes beyond that to indicate like bro love is great!
Chelsea: But this is more than that. Like there is history here.
Kay: It’s bros in love.
Claire: It starts very early on, I was just looking at my copy here and you know I’m on like page twelve and you have this, like, fight that they are in at the very beginning before they’ve properly reconnected and they’re just doing their hero and villain nemeses….
Claire: Dance around each other. Ambrosius is enjoying himself so much. And you can see that Ballister is, like, a bit worried because Nimona’s there and kind of messing things up and Ambrosius is like ‘no, we need to do the fight and this is the only way that we can interact with each other and I want to interact with you.’ And then right after that, page fifteen, he’s like you need to go because the squad’s going to arrive. And clearly wants to make sure that he, like, does not get captured.
Chelsea: And I was gonna say, I’m looking at that same panel and there’s like a hand on the shoulder and it’s just like, it’s one of those ineffable things that’s hard to describe because it’s captured in the artistic rendering of the moment. But there’s just, like, a level of concern there that you can tell that even this early on, whatever their relationship is, the relationship between these two men goes beyond just like I am the villain and you are the hero.
Claire: Um, also at some point Ambrosius agrees to, like, hunt down Nimona and kill her basicaly on the condition that Ballister will be safe.
Kay: Mmhmm. Even at the very beginning Ambrosius clearly just wants to have, like, banter and does not want to hurt Blackheart.
Kay: Like at one point when Ballister’s trying to leave to go after Nimona, Ambrosius is like ‘this isn’t how this is supposed to go.’ He wanted to have their usual banter and just, like, fight. And he’s like ‘you’re supposed to be paying attention to me, right now!’
Claire: Are you trying to make me jealous?
Kay: That’s like, how it comes across. Honestly.
Chelsea: Yeah, and that’s the whole thing, clearly this is not a duel for one of them to hurt the other one.
Chelsea: Like, they want, that’s what Ambrosius wants people to think ‘cause that’s how duels work, but he’s obviously not out to actually harm Ballister.
Claire: The only reason that, I’m saying, that works, the only reason that ya know, it works, that they’re like ‘oh no, we’re rivals, we hate each other’ kind of, uh, little scenario works is because you’re in an heteronormative society that expects that of them. And, you know, they’re in a society where, um, clearly their relationship is frowned upon ‘cause you have some comment later on that when they were young at the institution, the evil guys’ institution, Ambrosius is taken aside and told that he’s, he’s a very promising knight and therefore he must stop this unnatural relationship right now because it’s not going to stand him in good stead. And you can see that if, if you are the, uh, reader or within a society that expects that, this relationship is a possible thing, it’s really obvious that it’s there. Like with many, many, many other pieces of media, if one of them was a girl it would be super obvious that they’re into each other.
Chelsea: And, instead, it’s very heavily coded because, again, up until about the very end you could continue to read this at a surface level and that unnatural relationship is because one of them is evil and one of them is good.
Chelsea: And it doesn’t have anything to do with their gender. With a very surface level reading, you could take that as the quote unquote unnatural relationship he’s referring to, like, somebody who’s a hero shouldn’t be friends with someone who’s a villain. That’s not, but because we are readers who are able to see past that surface level of coding that’s going on there.
Chelsea: That’s explicitly queer and explicitly kind of homophobic.
Chelsea: Which I also think is interesting, given the way that Nimona is drawn. The way that Nimona is drawn, aesthetically, is coded in a way that I think syncs up with a lot of visual codings for queer women.
Claire: I think that’s fair.
Chelsea: And I just wondering what we thought about that? Especially given her, like, abilities as a shapeshifter and her nature as a shapeshifter and I’m wondering if there’s anything to that,
Claire: Well, she does shapeshift into, she does shift into boys and or men several times in, in the book. And that’s you know, it reminds me a lot of the discourse that was around the Harry Potter fandom between books five and six, I think it was, like when Tonks first appeared? Or between books four and five? People were saying ‘well, this is someone who’s a shapeshifter and who has like spunky colored hair and this is someone who might well be genderqueer.’ And well, like, what’s the meaning of gender if there’s no such thing really as physical sex? And anyway, she’s a dragon! So.
Kay: I do want to point out, yeah, she’s a dragon. I do want to point out she’s in a skirt basically any time she is in her, it’s not like her natural form, but, like, her standard character design. She’s always not in pants. [laughs] So when people are like ‘she’s dressed like a boy’ I’m always like ‘I mean, no.’
Claire: What you are saying is she has short hair.
Kay: What you’re saying is you look at her character design and you, you see some boyish element. Which I don’t think is the intention at all.
Chelsea: I do think it’s interesting that she’s in a skirt, but they’re also, she’s also very well outfitted for battle. Like, she’s got that nice heavy chest plate. I guess what I’m getting at is it stays away from, like, those designs —
Kay: God bless.
Chelsea: — of armor that is so popular, especially like amongst gamers, but also just among just general battle heroines, especially in fantasy.
Claire: And also she can’t really be hurt, so what’s the point, ya know? Like, she heals very quickly, so what’s the point? But on the cover, the form that she has on the cover of the book is her standard character design with the skirt and the really short red hair, but she also has wings and a tail. And it’s clearly like, here’s to indicate the dragon girl, you know? So. I think that’s yeah. Really interesting. A really interesting thing.
Kay: And I do think it’s interesting, I’ve read interviews where Stevenson basically mentions when she does cosplay, herself, she dresses up as male characters and that did have an effect on her design of Nimona and her shapeshifting and the choices that she makes there.
Claire: And also, at the end when there is, in the epilogue, when Ballister’s, like, looking for people who might be Nimona checking on him there is a shot looking at a woman or a female presenting person, really, who is, who has an undercut and pink hair and is wearing lipstick and an earring and then turns around —
Chelsea: And a similar outfit, yeah.
Claire: — and like, kind of eyes him, but that’s really, you know. But in the same, you know, in the same breath this might be her or she might be this cat. And really not, he can’t tell.
Chelsea: [laughs] Yeah.
Claire: here is a person that reminds him of her, but he can’t tell.
Claire: Oh, yeah, I think she has, she has piercings in her normal design as well.
Claire: But, uh, she has an eyebrow one. That’s cool.
Kay: I love the sketchy art style that Stevenson uses. Generally always, but particularly in this it’s her signature style. If you’ve read some of her other things, like she also does work on on Lumberjanes. Which, yay Lumberjanes!
Chelsea: I was gonna say, it comes across really well in Lumberjanes.
Kay: And it’s — mmhmm.
Chelsea: Like, the aesthetics of the two are very, very similar.
Kay: Which, the lineart is a little bit different in Lumberjanes. The character designs are definitely a little more solid, but I love the art just as much.
Chelsea: Although there are similar hairstyles in Lumberjanes. That’s what it always makes me think of. There’s a trans character in Lumberjanes who has a similar undercut side hair wave thing going on.
Kay: Which I love.
Chelsea: And that just makes me, yeah. And she’s one of my favorite characters in Lumberjanes, so I’m just, I am all over it.
Claire: I am so behind on Lumberjanes.
Chelsea: That’s another solid rec for Lumberjanes if you liked Nimona.
Kay: Oh yeah.
Chelsea: If you liked Nimona definitely check out Lumberjanes.
Chelsea: It’s something you will enjoy. For sure.
Claire: It’s so funny.
Chelsea: Yeah, it’s very funny. But it’s the kind of funny where, ‘cause I’ve tried, to explain it later to people why it’s funny and they they just give you that look.
Kay: Well, there’s a lot of visual humor and a lot of in-world jokes.
Chelsea: There’s a lot of contextual humor. Like, when she pops up and says ‘I am not a girl, I’m a shark’ that’s just —
Kay: Just, hysterical laughter. Every time.
Chelsea: It makes me laugh so hard. [laughs]
Claire: But I think it’s also just juxtaposition of you know that imagine of you know a lot of people throughout the comic say ‘oh she’s a little girl, we can’t hurt her’ and it’s the juxtaposition of that versus the fact that she is, ya know, a shark and also a dragon and also a cat and also, you know, all kinds of people.
Chelsea: And also a homicidal maniac who has no problem —
Kay: That, too.
Chelsea: — like, killing people. [laughs]
Claire: I find it very interesting that when she is reverting to her little girl form, like, even more of a little girl form when she is splitting herself —
Kay: When she’s got the bow and the long hair?
Claire: Yeah, between the dragon and she’s much more like a traditional image of what a little girl is and I’m wondering if that’s because from experience that the form that people want to help her in the most, you know?
Chelsea: Yeah, that could be.
Claire: Just coding from the, from, you know, a narrative standpoint that, you know, here’s an innocent character.
Kay: Well, it’s fairly meta, ‘cause almost every time she appears in that form in the comic it’s a story being told about her past. Right? All but one time?
Claire: Yeah. Yeah, except at the end.
Kay: So we don’t even know if that’s her self-image or if that’s what Blackheart is picturing her as, or, like, that’s never actually addressed. That, I thought, was really interesting as well.
Claire: Yeah, I thought it would be really interesting to think, like, if that’s the form that she as like a weird hellbeast who can change shape, decides that’s the form that will get more humans to help me.
Kay: Fair assessment.
Chelsea: You know, she’s had long enough that she probably figured some of that out. Like, I think it’s interesting to go through every iteration of her backstory and kind of tease out which of the narrative lines are the same. ‘Cause I think if you can do that there are some overlapping kind of narrative pieces, like a shadow of an idea of what happened–
Chelsea: — to this girl. And either way, it’s like a tragedy and whatever circumstances this is somebody who kind of lost their family and their parental units and stuff. But I just think, like you said, I wonder, it’s interesting to know if it’s just because that’s how Blackheart has pictured her and so that’s how she’s come to picture herself? Or if there’s something bigger than that going on, there?
Claire: Yeah. I, I really the, uh, I just really like all of the uh, graphics around her changing shape. Uh, you know, when she’s kind of, like, melting from a little boy into a cat when they’re at the science fair or, like, there are a few panels with, um, her arms are turning super big because, like, she’s semi-Hulking out.
Kay: That form always creeps me out a little bit, I’m not gonna lie.
Chelsea: Yeah, when she’s got like the giant hairy arms.
Claire: Yeah, that’s kind of meant to be a bit uncanny, you know? I like how she’s…oftentimes when she’s an animal she’s always, like, in pinks or reds.
Claire: But it doesn’t seem to be, like, a necessary thing because doesn’t happen when she’s, like, a person. So I like the idea that she, she chooses to go for that because then people get confused as to what she can become or not.
Chelsea: I just really like the colorings a lot.
Chelsea: The color panels that Stevenson went with?
Chelsea: I just really like the greens and yellow tones any time they’re in the science labs, especially toward the end. And I like that kind of, like, almost sepia toned flashback way because I think that that’s something that not every comic artist can do well is delineate time and timelines in the visuals of their graphic novels. So I think that because Nimona has so many kind of back and forths in all of the storylines she does a really good job of delineating that artistically. It makes it really easy to know when you’re in the past and when you’re in the present of the novel.
Claire: Yeah. Absolutely. What really struck me was that I really got the sense, when I was done reading it, that we don’t know what Nimona is, we don’t know what creature she is, but I, I found it really obvious that whatever creature she is, she is young.
Kay: Whatever that means for her particular…creature-ness.
Claire: And I like the idea that, you know, she may not be a little girl, but, you know, that doesn’t mean that she’s not someone who’s quite clearly someone who is young and needs to be protected.
Chelsea: And, you know, there are definitely moments where she lacks maturity, moments she lacks forethought and the ability to listen to Blackheart.
Chelsea: When he kind of tries to explain things to her. And she’s very impetuous and a lot of that is probably her nature as a shapeshifter and just because she doesn’t have to worry about a lot of those same things. But I think part of that definitely comes from also being young. Whatever that means.
Kay: So, on the fourth page, when they’re, like, going through their first plan together Nimona straight up says, ‘We could do with more general chaos.’ And that just is kind of like her entire life philosophy as far as I can tell, which makes sense for a trickster figure.
Chelsea: Yeah, no, it definitely does. ‘Cause like you said, that’s literally like her whole…
Claire: Yeah, my favorite bit is the whole, like, suppressed emotion in the moment where they’re about to go into battle and Ambrosius stops Ballister and says, ‘Wait, wait! I just want to say that I –’ and Ballister’s just like, ‘There’s no time!’ [laughs] And they just run into battle.
Claire: It’s just like…yeah.
Chelsea: Can my favorite line be from not the actual comic?
Kay: The Christmas epilogue?
Chelsea: From one of the extras? Yeah. [laughs] Duh. I’m trying to decide between ‘I punched a hole in the wall to build you a fireplace’ —
Kay: That one’s so good.
Chelsea: — and the one at the academy where Goldenloin says, ‘Go get your knight so we can play’ and Ballister says, ‘You know, I think I lost mine.’ Because he gave it to Ambrosius!
Claire: Who is an idiot and didn’t realize it’s the same knight.
Chelsea: And my heart is just melting. Shut up, Claire! Shut up, Claire, take it back!
Kay: It’s so sweet!
Chelsea: Take it back!
Claire: It’s adorable, but part of why it’s so sweet is that Ambrosius is still so naive that he’s not going to realize it.
Chelsea: I know, he does not get it. He doesn’t get what his friend’s done for him. And it’s just like…
Kay: So cute. So cute.
Chelsea: Okay, yeah, I think that’s gonna be my favorite one.
Claire: I do like ‘I punched a hole in the wall and put fire in it,’ though.
Chelsea: I know, that’s a really good one, too. That’s a really good one. ‘Cause that’s just how Nimona does shit.
Kay: I’m just over here hysterically laughing. Laughing because that’s so very Nimona.
Chelsea: It’s so very Nimona.
Kay: She’s, like, your cat who will go and kill something and leave it for you and not understand why you’re not delighted with this thing she has brought you.
Chelsea: [laughs] Right?!
Claire: I mean, I think her true form is probably something feline. That’s gonna be my, uh, my go for that.
Kay: Well, I think it’s the dragon. Which, like, they’re often depicted as sort of feline. In their behavior.
Claire: Yeah, maybe her true form, maybe her true form is Toothless.
Claire: Who is, like, a kitten, really.
[Malt Shop Bop by Kevin MacLeod plays]
Chelsea: Yeah, that is our conversation on Nimona, guys.
Chelsea: I think that, that is about, that’s good. Uh, so we will transition to kind of wrapping it up. Does anything have anything ongoing that they want to chat about?
Claire: By the time this podcast comes out I’ll probably have a few things on my channel. Wrapping up reading goals for the year and making reading goals and bookish goals for 2017. Um, and stuff like that. But I think that mostly, the most, the biggest most important thing at the moment is this new podcast! Which is really exciting.
Kay and Chelsea: Yay!
Chelsea: New projects! Do you have anything, Kay? By the time this comes out?
Kay: Mine is basically just all my usual ongoing things. I should have one or two more Book Riot posts up by the time this goes live and we’ll link those. And I also am still gonna be doing my Star Trek Fic Rec a Day.
Chelsea: Which is over on your Twitter account?
Kay: It’s just on Twitter. I’m very slowly moving that over to my blog as well so they’re all in big posts, but that takes so much time. They are also all, like, in a Twitter Moment. So that’s pretty easy access.
Chelsea: Um, and by the time this comes out kinda the only thing, I, too, will probably have some new content up on my YouTube channel, but as per requested some viewers that I have when I mentioned wanting to get more into romance in 2017, uh, I will be putting together or will have put together a little Goodreads group, uh, I’m gonna call it Sexy in ‘17. And I’m gonna be announcing one romance book a month that I’ll be reading. I’ll probably read more than that, but we will actually, I’ll do a little a group read, buddy read kinda convo on one a month.
Chelsea: Um, and I will link that in our show notes and will have more info about it over on my YouTube channel. But, yeah, if you are also a romance newbie and looking for somebody to chat to about some romance books, come hang out with me.
Claire: I will definitely come hang out with you.
Chelsea: It’ll be fun.
Kay: And romance newbies —
Kay: — this is Kay, feel free to hit me up on Twitter and I will give you recommendations.
Chelsea: Oh, yes. Most of what we will be reading, most of the books probably came from Kay. Either from Kay or from, uh, the demographically similar Jennys. Um, so, yes. I love them.
Kay: If you guys don’t listen to the Reading the End podcast? You should. They’re great.
Chelsea: You should. Yeah. The two Jennys are amazing and they sent me–I wasn’t sure if it was Whiskey Jenny or Gin Jenny that actually sent me the recommendations, but one of them did.
Kay: Probably a group effort.
Chelsea: [laughs] So, lots of stuff from there. Oh, yeah. Um, so that about, that’s our current projects and our convo. Uh, in a couple of weeks we will be reading When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare, so, which, Kay has read before, but Claire and I never have. So we will be tackling some new-to-us books for the first time.
Kay: It’s so neat!
Chelsea: So, yeah, that will be really exciting. Join us then. Of course you can always hit us up on all of our internet places. Um, everything’ll be on the website. Anything else, ladies?
Kay: I think that was all.
Chelsea: No, I think we’re good.
Chelsea: Wanna say goodbye? Alright? Alright, bye guys!
[Malt Shop Bop by Kevin Macleod plays]
Chelsea: You’ve been listening to Sisterhood of the Traveling Paperbacks, a podcast made by three online besties and all-around lady nerds. Channel art provided by Claire Rousseau. Music credits to ‘Malt Shop Bop’ by Kevin MacLeod. You can get in touch with the sisterhood at firstname.lastname@example.org, @PaperbacksPod on Twitter, or at our website paperbacksisters.wordpress.com. You can reach Kay @kaytaylorrea on Twitter, Claire @ClaireRousseau, and Chelsea @anoutlawlife. Additional credits and show notes will be available at our website. Thank you so much for listening. [Double speed] No paperbacks were harmed in the making of this program.