Brandon Sanderson’s third secret project is a secret no more! Yumi And The Nightmare Painter catapults us back into the Cosmere after the non-Cosmere Frugal Wizard stumble. Yumi is an excellent return to form, complete with an interesting magic system, intriguing characters, and a brilliant setting. However, Yumi still has its issues.
Yumi is a yoki-hijo, chosen by the spirits at birth to serve the people. Everything is done for her. Servants feed her, bathe her, and transport her from town to town. During her days, she stacks stones in intricate patterns to summon the spirits, which she can then encourage to take different shapes to assist the townspeople. She lives a lonely existence, but she is duty-bound by her purpose. Still, Yumi longs for something different…a life that would allow her to make her own choices. Nikaro is a Painter. He identifies with his job so much he’s called Painter by many. His city of Kilahito is surrounded by a dark shroud, kept at bay by magical hion lines. Hion also powers the city’s technology, which includes buses, electric-esque lighting, and “viewers” reminiscent of TV. The hion lines can only do so much, and nightmares—dark, wispy beings—emerge from the shroud to feed on human dreams. Painter (and the other Painters) track nightmares and paint them into different forms to protect the people.
One day, Yumi and Painter’s lives become spiritually bound to one another. Painter wakes up as Yumi and must live her life while Yumi herself guides him as a spirit invisible to everyone else. In Painter’s world, Yumi keeps her form and explores the wonders of Kilahito while Painter guides her. Together, they try to unravel the mystery of their lives and why they are intertwined.
Yumi And The Nightmare Painter has a lot going for it. Sanderson’s flair for vibrant settings and magic is on full display. I particularly appreciated the feeling of being eased into a more advanced Cosmere, where technology becomes prevalent but the magic doesn’t fade away. Sanderson does a great job using Yumi as a sort of bridge between the medieval-ish fantasies of the other Cosmere worlds like Roshar and the futuristic ages the wider universe is creeping toward.
On a more focused level, Yumi’s plot was just fine. The front half of the story drags along as Yumi and Painter alternate lives and try to understand one another. It’s the book equivalent of the “Spider-man pointing at himself” meme. The back half, when the mystery starts to come together, is where Sanderson characteristically kicks things into high gear. I thoroughly enjoyed Yumi’s Sanderlanche, though it did have a little too much exposition. That exposition comes from Hoid, so it gets a half-pass here. Exposition is more fun when it’s Hoid doing the expositing, but it still feels a tad lazy. As a reader, I was disappointed reading a word-for-word telling of what happened instead of discovering it through the events of the book.
The characters of Yumi And The Nightmare Painter are something of a mixed bag. My friend recently described Painter as having “edgelord vibes,” and that’s not entirely incorrect. Painter’s growth throughout the novel redeems him in some ways, but it still leaves lots of room for improvement. He begins the book as a lone warrior, painting nightmares solo even as his colleagues band together for their patrols. He describes his former friends to Yumi with no small dose of disdain, clearly hurt by something that happened in the past. His energy for the first half of the book is grating, and it led to a longer-than-usual reading time for me.
Yumi, on the other hand, is a tragic delight. She’s kept in an emotional prison, unable to think or feel for herself. During her adventures with Painter, she discovers freedom. She makes friends. She lives for the first time. And she begins to understand all the wonderful, terrible things that living can bring.
Overall, I enjoyed Yumi. Sanderson crafts a fun and interesting story within the Cosmere. The novel doesn’t crumble beneath the burden of advancing the Cosmere into a more tech-savvy world. It ushers in a new era gently and with a whimsical story told by everyone’s favorite mysterious bard.
Rating: Yumi And The Nightmare Painter – 8.0/10