Zeng’s allegorical second novel (To the Land of Fantasies, 2008) is a young-adult adventure about two friends searching for a way to defeat fear and its craving for world domination.
Luke and Zack are on their way to see the king when Luke has a confrontation with sorrow, which takes on a bodily form. Soon the two are looking for “hosts” of emotions so powerful that the men often have physical reactions. Some of the more troubling emotions have counterparts that can act as a deterrent (e.g. greed vs. generosity), but there seems to be no defense against fear, which wages war by recruiting personified emotions (hate) and dispelling others (modesty). Luke’s request for the king to finance his inventions is quickly sidelined for the seemingly abstract goal of saving the city’s people by pinpointing all emotions, good and bad. Each host’s name is an anagram—King Ivan Ty suffers from vanity. But while the book’s first half consists mostly of Luke and Zack trudging through the city and encountering new characters, the exhilarating second half is a series of battles: Fear and its cronies target the people hosting good emotions, and they face off against the two men. The author also makes it easy to applaud the protagonists by providing them with substance—Luke comes to terms with his father’s death; Zack’s affinity for food provides comic relief. The tale occasionally glosses details—the first appearance of despair receives too little physical description—but Zeng generally uses striking imagery, particularly fear’s assault of the castle, effortlessly demonstrating the futility of the armed guards. There’s no hidden context in the author’s novel, and the moral implications aren’t subtle; but who’s going to argue with heroes who use love and hope as weapons?
An enthusiastic novel with two clever, self-assured lead characters.