Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora and Nebula share a complicated relationship. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have gradually revealed, they were raised by Thanos, who pitted them against each other since their youth. Their rivalry for his approval was vicious, and their resentment of each other extended into adulthood. But they also shared a childhood, and they each have traumas that only the other could understand.
A new YA novel from Mackenzi Lee (A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue) dives into their competitive, co-dependent relationship, exploring a time in their pasts when they were locked in competition, but had to trust each other. Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms is the second book in Lee’s YA MCU series. The first, Where Mischief Lies, followed the trickster Loki through Victorian London, the setting of many of Lee’s other novels. But with Sisters in Arms, Lee takes to outer space.
Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms hits shelves on June 1. We talked to Lee about carving out space in the MCU story for young Nebula and Gamora. Read our interview and an exclusive excerpt of the book below.
What was it like to dive into outer space and the science fiction side of the MCU?
I’m primarily a writer of historical fiction — I’ve never tried to write science fiction before, aside from some Star Wars fanfic in my teens — and boy do I love not having to pause every two minutes to do a deep dive into 18th-century cutlery or underwear or shoelaces. While my brand of sci-fi definitely pulls inspiration from my roots as a historian, I love getting to create a world and not be held to any existing rules.
This is a story inspired by their younger years — how do you draw from their portrayal in the movies and comic books to create this story?
I took what we know about their younger years from the comics and films and worked backward. Both characters have had a retooling from their 1970s gonzo space origins, since the Guardians of the Galaxy film came out, and so their histories are pretty blank. We get intriguing hints about what made them who they are and what formed their relationship as we see it now, so when I was plotting the book, I felt like I was walking backward, picking up breadcrumbs other creators had dropped. It was like a fun storytelling puzzle.
How did you approach their connection?
For me, one of the most fascinating things about their relationship is how it’s formed by shared experiences that they each saw through a very different lens. They have so much of the same trauma and pain and abuse, but it made them two very different people. The main emotional journey in the book is the two of them trying to separate how they actually feel about each other from how they were told to feel about each other by Thanos, and learning who the other really is.
Do you have a favorite between them — either to write, or just in general?
I couldn’t pick — partly because I really love them both, and partly because choosing a favorite would make me no better than Thanos.
And now read this exclusive excerpt from Sisters in Arms:
Nebula landed the Church cruiser on a platform at the base of the gantry lift that stretched between Rango-15 and Torndune. The ship’s paneling was silver and slick, and in the bluish dark, it felt like piloting a beam of moonlight to the surface. She pulled her vent over her face before she opened the hatch and jumped out, landing noiselessly on the empty platform. Sister Merciful had assured her that the insignia of the Universal Church of Truth, painted in iridescent red on the side of the cruiser, would keep the security teams from bothering her, but she still moved on the balls of her feet across the platform and started down.
It was easy to find the bay where the diggers were stored, hunkered down in the dim wash of outage lights scattered across the scaffolding. Their beams cast a pale sheen across the trenches. She found Versa Luxe’s digger parked close to the edge, and ran her fingers along the jagged edges of the letters CALAMITY scratched into the side in confirmation. She hoisted herself up the ladder until she was level with the cab, then looped her mechanical arm around the top rung, delighted to realize she no longer had to worry about a glitch that would stall the circuitry and send her crashing back to the ground. What a wonder it was to trust your own body.
Nebula reached into the pocket of her coat and withdrew a tube light the length of her hand that the Sisters had given her with the admonition to use it sparingly. She cracked the glass inside, and a moment later the tube began to emit an eerie, pale glow. She held it up to the cabin window and peered inside, not sure what she was looking for but sure she would know it when she saw it.
The cab was absent of any personal effects she had hoped for. Versa Luxe seemed to have left very little behind when she’d scanned in that night and returned to Rango-15. The question was, when backed into a corner and forced to run, what would she take with her? Nebula could see the wheel was missing from the dashboard of her digger, though it was likely hidden somewhere in the cab. Would she take that, leaving her rig un-drivable—a last middle finger to the Mining Corps as she fled them? Because she would flee. Nebula’s light caught something shiny dangling from the rearview mirrors, and she squinted. A small gold chain with charms on either end winked through the darkness. Too small.
Nebula tried the cab door, and found it, as she had expected, locked. She unhooked the tipped hammer from her belt and cracked it sharply against the glass. The window was old and broke easily, veins unfurling across the entire surface with a single tap. She knocked in the shards, then swung herself up through the broken window. Her new arm lifted her weight easily. She could have pulled herself one-handed.
She had to move fast. The break would attract attention, and while the stamp of the Universal Church of Truth had gotten her through the atmosphere and the monitors at the station level, she could still be shot by some overzealous security officer patrolling these platforms.
She ducked down below the dashboard, the tube light clenched between her teeth as she fished beneath the seat for the wheel.
Then she spotted them: A pair of Starforce boots, their laces stiff with sweat and blood, a tear along the back from where a rappelling hook had caught one on Jansi, stitched poorly and starting to come apart again. Their treads worn almost smooth along the inside.
She remembered that day Gamora had stolen them off the corpse of a Starforce officer, almost resorting to cutting off his feet to get them before the sisters had rushed back into their ship. Back on Sanctuary II, as Gamora had tried them on, Nebula had teased her for caring about fashion in the middle of a firefight, though she knew it was the weaponry she had wanted them for. Starforce-issue boots were legendary. Gamora had said nothing, and Nebula had pushed harder, helplessly thinking, Tease me back. Be my sister. Gamora’s green skin had been tarnished from the fight, like an old coin pried up from a muddy ditch. Her face was burned, and she’d lost a swath of hair off the side of her head, which Nebula hadn’t noticed until they were back in the familiar light of home.
Gamora had done a lap up and down the hallway between their sleeping quarters while Nebula watched from the doorway. She had tested her weight in the new shoes, then had spun into a roundhouse kick, knocking Nebula unexpectedly in the side of the head. Nebula had sprawled, caught off guard by the suddenness of the blow and how little Gamora had telegraphed it. She had thought she knew all her sister’s tells, could sense the moment before she threw a punch or cracked an elbow, but this blow had come from nowhere. Either that or Nebula had let her guard down. She hadn’t been paying enough attention. Nebula remembered tasting blood in her mouth and thinking how funny it was that she had walked away from their skirmish in the prison unscathed, but here, back in their father’s ship, she had split her lip badly enough that it was weeping blood onto the polished floor. It was always Gamora who knew how to do the most damage.
Nebula reached across the Calamity’s cab and retrieved the left boot, then smacked the heel against the ground. She heard the spring of the mechanism inside it click, empty.
Using her mechanical hand, Nebula reached into her own boot and pulled out the vibroblade Gamora had left her on Praxius, its edge still stained faintly with her blood. Gamora’s knife, the one she had given Nebula to cut off her own arm. She slid it back into its place in the toe of her sister’s boot, and it fit perfectly.
Of all the things Versa Luxe would take with her into the wilderness, Gamora would surely be one of them.
Nebula withdrew the homing beacon that Sister Prudence had given her, and cracked it in half to extinguish the blinking red light and kill its signal. Then she replaced it with her own tracking device, which she slipped into the toe of her sister’s abandoned boots alongside the knife.
If anyone was going to find Gamora, it would be her.