“It’s a common mistake to assume that someone is weak because they are accommodating. If you think this, you might be the type who has no idea how much effort—how much strength—it takes to put up with your nonsense.”
Sometimes a book just comes along at the right time and hits all the right notes. Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, the third of Brandon Sanderson’s secret projects is such a novel. It is a beautiful and enchanting fantasy read that I raced through, adoring every page. I rarely give 5-star ratings these days, yet this tale deservedly earns that score from me.
Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is a story delivered to the reader by a witty narrator. He is knowledgeable of the scenes where these exploits take place, and other planets in the Cosmere; often kindly translating any peculiarities to the reader in a manner that we will understand. There are frequent asides delivered too where extra knowledge is imparted, which makes for quality worldbuilding as well as delivering Cosmere-related nuggets for Sanderson aficionados. The delivery, flow, and pacing are excellent throughout.
The two protagonists are Yumi who administers important and holy duties as the Chosen, and Nikaro who is a city-protecting nightmare painter. Both are unhappy with their relatively mundane places within their respective societies. Put simply, Yumi stacks rocks to entice spirits, and Nikaro (or Painter as he is mostly known throughout) paints images of bamboo to influence and pacify monsters. They live in two vividly different environments with Painter’s being more advanced technologically however his city (Kilahito) is surrounded by the shroud: a nightmare-stalking wasteland of perpetual mist, as dark and imposing as the sky. Yumi frequents various cities where the sky is blue, the ground is hot, and trees can float.
My version of Yumi and the Nightmare Painter was 362 pages long, containing 10-15 page chapters that alternated from Yumi and Painter’s points of view as their stories in their differentiating surroundings progressed. I do not want to give much away about the narrative, but I will say that I think Sanderson works the romance elements of this novel admirably, as well as weaving a deep, intriguing, and beautifully envisaged world. Yumi and the Nightmare Painter features estranged friendships, technological advancements, ghosts and spirits, space exploration, and beautiful and crystal-clear imagery and set pieces. Half of my enjoyment came from the mystery and trying to mentally decipher how this could all possibly fit together.
Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is exquisite. It all wraps up sublimely and I had to wipe away tears as I closed the book’s final pages. This relatively short tale would work as a standalone yet I am sure the more of Sanderson’s work that you are familiar with, the more that there is to appreciate. Personally, I have read about ten of Sanderson’s novels, and because of this, I knew who the owner and assistant of a certain noodle bar were, which was pretty neat. (I even knew what they were talking about some of the time too.) I absolutely recommend Yumi and the Nightmare Painter to fans of well-written, captivating, and unpredictable fantasy novels, whilst reminding them that it features a slightly more predictable yet equally charming romantic side.
I received an early proof copy in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Brandon Sanderson and Gollancz.