Themes Explored: free will, death, alien invasion, individuality, world conquering, submission, identity, love, obsession, bondage, civilization, survival, self-reliance, perseverance, identity, foreignness, community, family, compassion, forgiveness, life, consciousness, existence, memory, the past, prejudice, exile, possession, loss of control
Synopsis: Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, didn’t expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind. As Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she’s never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love. (From Goodreads)
Review: Stephanie Meyer’s name will forever be associated with the Twilight Series. In an effort to break from the vampire young adult genre, Meyer decided to write an “adult” science fiction novel. This brought about the writing of The Host. Though I am hard pressed to figure out how The Host is more adult than Twilight. Both novels involve love triangles and young protagonists stuck in weirdly impossible situations. And lots of angst, a lot of angst. The themes explored in The Host are not more mature than Twilight, there is not any more violence, and sex is surprisingly mentions a lot less. Even though the screen frequency is about the same between both stories. However, The Host does contain some deeper content, though the narrative is not overly complicated. While the premise is quite intriguing, the plot is dragged down by slow pacing, one-dimensional characters, and a love quadrangle. While I enjoyed this story more than Twilight, it is still not Meyer’s strongest work.
In this strange new world the human race has been conquered by a parasitic but supposedly peace-loving alien race known as souls. Melanie, the female protagonist, is the human host to a soul known as the Wanderer. Souls are small tentacle worm like creatures that are visible as a small silver glimmer in their host body. These aliens always come to new world en masse and live a quiet and peaceful existence once the native population has been conquered. Most people tend to surrender their bodies quite quickly. Wandered has lived in eight different hosts on eight different planets. And all of her hosts have been easy to conquer and then she is inserted into Melanie Stryder. However, Melanie is not going to let Wanderer take control of her body and forcibly protects her independent identity. Melanie is not happy about sharing control of her body with Wanderer. And Melanie fights Wanderer by filling the alien’s thoughts with images of Jared, Melanie’s love interest. Melanie is eventually captured by the human resistance and has to convince them she is still alive.
The aliens are rather contradictory beings. They claim to be peace loving individuals who do not bother with possessions because they can take whatever they want. On the other hand, they are ruthless conquerors who not only invade new planets but take over the bodies of any sentient beings. In The Host, humanity has already lost due to the superiority of the aliens’ technology. There are a few pockets of resistance fighters, but the remaining humans are too busy surviving to even consider retaking over Earth. Perhaps the largest similarity between The Host and the Twilight Series is the Wanderer’s character development. She and Bella could almost be sisters. They are both angst ridden, mopey, depressed, whiny, and obsessed with what they believe to be a perfect guy.
Meyer’s specialty is in love triangles, though it is an odd quadrangle in this book. Twilight explored a human-werewolf-vampire “love” obsession. And The Host brings us a human-human-alien stuck in a human body-human relationship melodrama. Jared is in love with Melanie, Melanie is in love with Jared, Ian is in love with the Wanderer, and Wanderer is in love with Ian. But she happens to share a body with Melanie. Jared is frustrated because he cannot kiss Melanie without locking lips with an alien and Ian cannot kiss Meanie because he wants to kiss Wanderer, not Melanie. And Melanie is just confused and angry about the whole thing. Yes it is that weird.
Perhaps the strongest part of this novel is the premise behind the narrative. Telling the story of an alien invasion from the perspective of the alien is great. I would not call the world building phenomenal but it is the strongest part of book. The parts of the narrative exploring Wanderer’s past lives were wonderful and the highlight of the book. Meyer’s alien ruled Earth desperately needed some more depth to elevate it out of the throes of young adult angst into the sophisticated heights of adult science fiction. And it never quite reaches that goal. The Host was marketed as science fiction for people who do not enjoy science fiction. This is an accurate statement since the novel is thick on the fiction and scant on the science. It boils down to a messy love triangle set against the backdrop of technologically advanced aliens taking over Earth.
Unfortunately, the story falls quite flat. There are long stretches where the narrative drags and it hard to slog through because it is just boring. About two-thirds of the way through the action finally picks up enough to be compelling. But a majority of the characters are little more than caricatures or stereotypes, even the main protagonists. Overall, The Host has a few good ideas to play around with but Meyer decided to emphasize love over the horror of body invasion or the philosophical dilemma Wanderer finds herself in. I would have liked some stronger world building and character development. However, I still liked The Host more than Twilight.
The Host, Little Brown & Company, 2008, ISBN 9780316068048