Review: Yumi and the Nightmare Painter

Posted: January 3, 2024 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Brandon Sanderson, Fantasy

Yumi and the nightmare painter is book 3 in Brandon Sanderson’s “Year of Sanderson” and like TRESS OF THE EMERALD SEA (EBR Review) it sometimes has a fairytale quality to it, with a mind-bending setting, magic that helps the people survive a harsh world, and characters you can’t help but love despite their flaws.

Yumi has a special calling: she was born to call the spirits with her art. The spirits are what helps mankind survive in a world where natural resources are limited. Fortunately, they can be persuaded to help, and Yumi’s special skills make that possible. However, in order to be able to do it requires a life of contemplation and complete obedience to tradition. However, after years of following rules, Yumi finds herself yearning for the life of a normal young woman.

Painter has a unique job: he controls the streets at night to find the nightmares before they grow too strong to hurt others. His paintings make the nightmares unravel. But like Yumi, he feels isolated from others in his profession, people who should be his friends. Even his own boss puts him down and doesn’t trust him. He barely skates through life, trying just to survive, since what is the point in life if there is no one to share it with?

Then one day, something completely changes for both Yumi and Painter: their worlds overlap somehow and they find themselves as specters in each others’ world, where they must navigate a foreign land. On the surface this sounds like serious business. But this is Brandon Sanderson we’re talking about. You know, the one who wrote ALCATRAZ VS. THE EVIL LIBRARIANS, the one with a (nerdy, but we love it) sense of humor. So, despite the seriousness of the situation, there is hilarity. And it is this very lightheartedness–and of course the inherent qualities of the main characters–that helps Yumi and Painter bond despite their differences.

This is a world where the magic of art affects the world around them. Yumi’s special talent with rocks and Painter’s (of course) paintings help them to communicate with creatures that they can’t talk to without that special artistic connection. This magic is so interesting to watch as it develops over time and as Sanderson explains it to us. Yumi’s rock art is not only math but balance, feel, experience, grace, and endurance. Painter’s art is courage, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and cleverness. This is a magic system I can get on board with.

Also fascinating, of course, is the setting because we’re trying to figure out where these people are in relation to each other. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but over time the revelations will blow your mind. It is a very well-crafted story that is defined by its setting and characters–as a story ought to be. You do have to be patient though, because this story takes time to develop.

YUMI AND THE NIGHTMARE PAINTER is another mind-bending Sanderson creation with *art* as the magic de jour, which we think is as it should be.

But it’s worth it.

I’ll be reading this book again with my book club, and I’m looking forward to discussing it with others.

  • Recommended Age: 10+ (some scary scenes may disturb sensitive readers)
  • Language: None
  • Violence: A couple, but no blood or gore
  • Sex: Kissing, references to nudity (not sex-related)

Other versions of this book, including e-book and audio, are available on Brandon’s website:

Year of Sanderson

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