I loved this book so much I have botht the standard edition and the special edition with illustrations (book on the right).
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Yumi and The Nightmare Painter Review: A Captivating Creative Adventure

In December 2023, I stumbled across Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, a standalone fantasy authored by Brandon Sanderson that had been circulating around BookTok. I’m not going to lie; the things that drew my attention to it were the cover and the title.

Having very little experience with Sanderson’s work, I decided to pick it up because I heard it was a good entry point to Sanderson’s work due to its shorter length compared to his other books.

What I didn’t expect was for it to become my favorite read of 2023! In this Yumi and the Nightmare Painter review, I’ll explain why!

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this review, which means if you make a purchase after clicking on one, I may earn a commission. Full disclaimer here.

I loved this book so much I have botht the standard edition and the special edition with illustrations (book on the right).

Overview

Yumi & the Nightmare Painter by Brandon Sanderson

Yumi is one of Brandon Sanderson’s four secret project books released in 2023. (The other three were, Tress of the Emerald Sea, The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook to Surviving Medieval England, and The Sunlit Man)

Set in Sanderson’s Cosmere universe, this gripping story follows the lives of two characters from completely different worlds who must join forces and find common ground to save their realms from ruin.

We’re introduced to Yumi, a character leading a life of strict obedience. This grants her the power to summon spirits, which provide essential aid to her society. However, Yumi longs for the freedom and simplicity of an ordinary life.

Our other protagonist, Nikaro, is an artist known as the “Nightmare Painter.” Throughout the book, we see both of them fight against their society’s expectations and battle their own inner demons as they try to save their worlds from destruction.

Sanderson has once again outdone himself with his intricate, fantastical world-building and has introduced two strong characters that readers can get behind. His storytelling is unparalleled, and his unique magic systems keep the reader wanting more.

The book’s well-paced plot and relatable characters make it difficult to put down once you’ve started. The beautiful prose, the compelling storyline, and Sanderson’s mastery of twisty turnabouts make this novel an unforgettable addition to his phenomenal repertoire.

Themes and Motifs

One of the major themes of “Yumi and the Nightmare Painter” that really stood out to me was love. The story explores various aspects of love, such as romantic relationships, friendships, empathy, and compromise. The way the main characters interact with one another really showcases the importance of understanding and selflessness in any relationship.

Another fascinating theme in the novel is the passion for art. The author delves into the idea of what art means to people, and how its value varies from one person to another.

One of the one my favorite quotes from the book is:

“There’s nothing intrinsically valuable about any kind of art. That’s not me complaining or making light. It’s one of the most wonderful aspects of art – the fact that people decide what is beautiful.”

In addition to the themes of love and art, the novel offers a captivating glimpse into Korean and Japanese culture. The author skillfully weaves in elements of both cultures, creating an immersive reading experience. I felt like I was right there with the characters, experiencing their world and traditions first-hand.

Another intriguing aspect of “Yumi and the Nightmare Painter” is the question of AI vs. humans. As the story unfolds, the boundaries between humans and machines blur, forcing the characters (and the readers) to question the true meaning of art and its creation. This exploration of AI and its potential impact adds a thought-provoking depth to the novel.

Redemption plays a significant role in the story as well. Characters grapple with their past actions, seeking a chance to make amends and grow from their experiences.

World-Building

I was completely captivated by the world-building in Yumi & The Nightmare Painter.

Two distinct settings unfold in this Cosmere novel, showcasing Brandon Sanderson’s masterful storytelling and vivid imagination.

Painter lives in a world that reminded me of modern-day Japan, with one of the central settings being a noodle shop in a city lit by vibrant magenta and cyan lights (known as hion lines) and immersed in eternal night. Sanderson’s descriptions brought the images to life with meticulous details, and I could easily envision this unique environment.

Yumi’s world is a stark contrast, characterized by sweltering heat and a burning ground. Plants must float above the scorching surface just to survive.

I loved Sanderson’s approach to creating this setting, as it intertwined elements of the familiar with the fantastical. It felt like a thrilling blend of fantasy and space exploration.

In both worlds, I was struck by the intricate details, multiple layers, and engaging mysteries that pulled me further into the story. Sanderson’s background in the Stormlight Archive series was evident in the complexity and thoroughness of the world-building elements in this novel.

Yumi and The Nightmare Painter brought two incredibly different worlds together, each with its own intricate and absorbing settings. Sanderson’s weaving of these unique places truly showcased his skill in crafting stories that immerse you in a fantastical universe, making it yet another remarkable addition to the Cosmere series.

Plot

While I’m usually a fan of action-packed stories, Yumi and the Nightmare Painter delivered a refreshing change of pace for me, focusing more on the emotional journey. The story captivated me with its sweet, slow burn romance and character-driven narrative.

As a fan of unpredictable fantasy novels, I found the plot of Yumi and the Nightmare Painter to be engaging.

Brandon Sanderson noted in the acknowledgments that one of his inspirations for the book was Final Fantasy X. The nerd in me was ecstatic about this because Final Fantasy X was one of my favorite games of all time as a teenager, and the parallels between the characters and story elements made this an enjoyable read for me.

Granted, the plot is a bit slow-paced at times, especially in the middle, which some readers might find a bit lagging. However, I cherish character interactions and the growth of relationships between them. For me, these details make the book beautiful.

Moreover, the exciting action and plot towards the end more than makeup for the slower middle. The ending had me thoroughly satisfied.

One interesting aspect of the story is the art involved in this fantasy read. The art plays a vital role within the narrative as it’s connected to the central characters and their abilities.

As for the criticisms, there was one part of the book that left me a bit puzzled. Without giving away spoilers, a certain assumption in one book of the story seemed to lack purpose and appeared to be there just to distract the reader. However, it is possible that this aspect could be connected to other Cosmere books that I haven’t read.

Characters

I absolutely adore the characters in Yumi and The Nightmare Painter. The two protagonists, Yumi and Painter, have their own unique struggles that make them so relatable. Yumi feels trapped in a role she’s not sure she wants, while Painter feels ostracized by his friends due to his perceived shortcomings.

The narration by Hoid (a character who apparently shows up repeatedly across the Cosmere for mysterious reasons) is such a fantastic addition to the story, so much so that I’d be thrilled to have every book I read from now on narrated by him!

As for the other characters—Design, Akane, Masaka, Izzy, and Tojin—they’re enjoyable to read about, but I couldn’t help but wish for more time dedicated to their stories.

Nikaro, the Nightmare Painter, shares an interesting parallel in the story with Tidus, the Blitzball player from the popular video game franchise “Final Fantasy.” Like Nikaro, Tidus isn’t fully understood by those around him and their journeys are about finding their place in the world.

And Yumi is very clearly a node to Yuna, the FFX summoner with a solemn duty to serve the planet before her own needs.

Writing Style

I can’t help but adore the writing style in Yumi and the Nightmare Painter. The beautiful prose reminded me at times of Strange the Dreamer, and I enjoyed the anime-inspired elements woven throughout.

-Sanderson’s writing style is truly flawless, especially the way the story is told from Hoid’s perspective.

The narrator’s wit and charm captivated me from the very beginning. With engaging dialogue and vivid descriptions, the writing was both deep and intriguing.

Thanks to the well-written prose, I was instantly immersed in the worlds of Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, even despite the slower-paced plot.

While this novel is separate from Tress of the Emerald Sea, I couldn’t help but notice some stylistic similarities.

Both books have that signature Sanderlanche – the fast-paced, thrilling climaxes that are so characteristic of Sanderson’s work.

Just like in Tress, this novel’s excitement rapidly builds up, keeping me on the edge of my seat.

The use of lists, tables, and other formatting tools makes it easy to digest information and keep up with the story’s complexities.

This effective combination of casual tone and exceptional storytelling made the book incredibly enjoyable for me.

Final Thoughts and Rating

From the very beginning, I could tell that Yumi and the Nightmare Painter was going to be something special. The writing was next level and it quickly became my favorite book of the year.

Offering an honest review, I can wholeheartedly say that I have very few critiques about this book, making it one of my favorite standalone fantasies of all time.

The story skillfully combines elements of a love story with a setting reminiscent of modern Japan, creating a perfect backdrop for the characters’ development.

In a world where nightmare painters play a significant role, the unique premise offers a refreshing take on the fantasy genre and keeps readers invested throughout the tale.

Here’s a quick rundown of my ratings for different aspects of the book:

Aspect Rating Story 5/5 Characters 5/5 Writing 5/5 World-building 5/5

I appreciated the addition of a postscript. It provided intriguing insights about the story’s creation, as well as the author’s thoughts and inspirations behind it.

These little glimpses into other communities and the creative process make the book even more enjoyable.

At the end of the day, the countless 5-star ratings for Yumi & the Nightmare Painter are well-deserved. I cannot recommend this book enough to fellow readers who enjoy a gripping, beautifully-written story that explores the depths of human emotions and the power of love, all set against a captivating backdrop.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Yumi and the Nightmare Painter worth reading?

Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is definitely worth reading. From the gripping storyline to the fascinating world-building, it’s a captivating experience. Many readers have praised its unique aesthetic, combining two distinct worlds into a memorable narrative. If you’re a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s books and other works, you’ll likely appreciate this addition to his Cosmere universe.

Does Yumi and the Nightmare Painter have romance?

While Yumi and the Nightmare Painter’s world is centered around the adventure of Yumi and her interaction with the Nightmare Painter, there is a slow-burn romance throughout the story. The focus is more on the development of relationships, personal growth, and collaboration between the two main characters here.

Is Yumi and the Nightmare Painter narrated by Hoid?

Yes, Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is narrated by Hoid, a familiar character in the Cosmere universe. This gives the story an interesting (and humorous) perspective and provides an extra layer of depth for those familiar with the Cosmere book’s interconnecting stories.

Is Yumi and The Nightmare Painter a Standalone?

While Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is a gripping story set within Sanderson’s larger Cosmere universe, it is separate from other series and is a standalone novel. There’s enough context provided for newcomers to grasp the story’s events without requiring extensive knowledge of previous works. However, for fans of the Cosmere, the connections between books will be a treat!

What age group is this book for?

Yumi and the Nightmare Painter can be enjoyed by a variety of age groups. It’s clean and accessible to younger readers due to its creative storytelling, well-developed characters, and vivid imagery. At the same time, it offers enough depth and complexity to engage the interest of older readers. This is particularly true for those who appreciate Brandon Sanderson’s other works.

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