Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, review
It's time to review and reflect about Yumi and the Nightmare Painter, the third instalment in The Year of Sanderson and the second in the Cosmere. This will probably become one of my favorite books of the Cosmere and be in my top tier of fiction books.
I haven't experienced many world-hopping narratives, so what might come across as a trope to some was very appealing to me. The execution of the plot is brilliant, especially the dynamic where the two main characters need to learn to live each other's life. It is fascinating how Painter, who comes from a modern world akin to ours, needs to understand and follow the constraints of a world made by doctrine. In contrast, we observe Yumi thrust into a more open-minded world as she navigates her inner suppression and confronts her fears.
The asymmetry goes further than that. Painter having to live in Yumi's body initiates a subtle, yet impactful, conversation about the experience of living in a body that doesn't align with one's identity, a conversation still too often silenced in our society. On the other hand, Yumi keeping her own body introduces a more conventional underpinning of deception to the plot. The contrast between these two representations of what is living in a foreign world operates on many levels that are fascinating to read. The origin of these differences and the magic behind them are a mystery that keeps you hooked until the end.
Setting aside the fantasy and magic of the story, which in typical Sanderson's fashion is one of the best ones I've experienced, what resonated deeply with me was the core theme of personal growth. The journey of self-improvement that forces the characters to open their mind and shift their perspective, dismantling their own dogmas and fears. Among the many narrative threads, a particular subplot I really liked was about meditation. What started as a push for the other character to do meditation in the only correct way evolved into the understanding that each person is different and has its own path to tranquility, of emptying their mind or even of not emptying it at all. Coming to terms with the difference between each individual was an enriching and fulfilling experience.
The other part I liked a lot was the intricacies of the love story. As I often tell my wife, love finds its way in every tale, even in those that don't exactly belong to the romance genre. I've never been captivated by the romance genre, but I still find myself seduced by the deep connections that love weaves into every story. With "Yumi and the Nightmare Painter", while the main plot is about figuring out what happened and how to fix it, through the course of the story we see how two strangers naturally bound thanks to mutual understanding and sharing their fears. This evolution culminates in a lovely relationship that plays an integral part of the climax. It's a delight to see the author be less shy with certain scenes and letting these human aspects arise n the story.
Now, the question that everybody asks: Is this book enjoyable if you haven't read the Cosmere? Well, I can't tell you for sure because for me the Cosmere is the main reason I love Sanderson's work. I'm a sucker for interconnected stories and worlds and is where a big part of my enjoyment comes from. Yet, I truly think that you can enjoy this, and all other stories, without being an expert in Realmatic Theory. The story stands on its own and is self-contained. You will miss on the occasional nod to the rest of the Cosmere but that is normal and expected. So don't ignore this book just because of this.
I want to conclude with the only point of critique I have about this book, a concern that involves none other than our beloved and mischievous Hoid. The voice of the book being narrated by Hoid is very interesting. It feels different from other occasions while still being clearly Hoid. This narrative choice worked really well. However, I have to admit that there are a couple of moments where the exposition runs for a bit too long, even for me. This was particularly notable towards the end of the story, when the prose stops showing the events and just lets the narrator tell us exactly what happens in what feels like an "info dump". Granted, it makes sense from the narration point of view, as Hoid is narrating the story to somebody in the Cosmere, but while I was immersed in the story this pulled me out of the fiction immediately and made me ask: am I accepting this because the author is Brandon Sanderson? Would I accept it from another author lacking the same level of reputation?
The immediate answer that came to mind was that I would have been more critical of another author. However, after some introspection, I realised how I ignored a critical factor: context. Brandon Sanderson has not only carved his reputation through the years, but directly made a tremendous impact on me. Of course I can accept a bit of whimsicalness from time to time if that's what he enjoys. I shouldn't forget that's precisely why I baked the secret projects and why I love them so much!
In summary, a resounding endorsement. Must read. Cosmere pinnacle, and top fantasy book.
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