“This place was truly the highest and the lowest of all worlds – the most beautiful senses, the most exquisite emotions…the most malevolent desires, the darkest deeds. Perhaps it was meant to be so. Perhaps without the lows, the highs could not be reached.”
From Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, The Host, originally published in 2008, follows 17-year-old Melanie Stryder who lives in a world which has been taken over by an unseen parasitic alien race known as Souls, who deem the humans as too violent to deserve the planet. With her body taken over by a Soul known as Wanderer, Melanie refuses to just fade away. When Wanderer starts hearing Melanie’s voice inside her head and begins experiencing memories of her brother, Jamie, and boyfriend, Jared, she sets out to risk everything to find Melanie’s loved ones, as she struggles to put aside the strong human emotions that are refusing to let her cooperate.
This following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
Most people will pick up this book because it is written by the author of Twilight. Others will avoid it because of that. But the only thing that this story has in common with Bella and her glittery boyfriend is a love triangle that once again gets in the way. For one thing, The Host is much better written. Well, some of it is, at least.
The Host is a book of two halves. The science fiction aspects are carried through really well, but there is a lot that gets in the way of making this a science fiction story that stands out. When it’s good, it’s good, but some of the story isn’t particularly well handled. It all depends on whether you can forgive it for its flaws so that you can enjoy it for what it is.
For the most part, The Host is an original and cleverly explored science fiction. It follows a character called Wanderer, who is part of an alien race that has recently taken over Earth. The Souls move from planet to planet, inserting themselves into different creatures to explore their world and experience how they live in it. Sure, they ruthlessly colonize these planets to do so, but they are still peaceful creatures at heart. Apparently.
It doesn’t really add up. They may not damage the worlds they visit in any way, but they do end all of humanity in the meantime. However, what this means is that get to learn about these many other worlds. Wanderer has lived on worlds that are made from water, ice, and fire, and worlds that are solely occupied by spiders. They are imaginative and beautifully described, so when Meyer takes her time to detail these worlds and creatures that live there, these chapters take over and really lure you in.
It is these descriptions that make the book feel so original. Unfortunately, much of everything else doesn’t hold up so well. The main premise of the story is that Wanderer hasn’t met anyone like Melanie before. Melanie, the host of the body she has taken over, is fighting back. She fights for herself and the two people she loves most, as supposedly love really can conquer all. But this fight inside Melanie gets somewhat lost. Wanderer easily gives in to the voice in her head as the two unite against their now common enemy without any real valid reasons for doing so.
For a character to so easily turn on her entire race just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Wanderer has lived on many planets before she arrived on Earth, so it’s difficult to believe that she hasn’t ever dealt with emotions before. Maybe it is only humans who are capable of love, but for Wanderer to sacrifice everything that she has ever believed in (and she’s thousands of years old so that’s a lot of experience!) just because she quite likes the thought of smooching with a good-looking guy, the quality of this concept just doesn’t hold up to the rest of the book.
It’s a typical flaw in Meyer’s writing, as she seems incapable of putting her characters in any real danger. This lack of threat and absence of desire for any of these characters to want to make a difference is the book’s biggest flaw. When you’re reading about an alien race taking over the world, you want to see how these humans defend themselves. But because the Souls take over the world so calmly, we don’t get to see any of the fight or the fight back. Instead, we see these revolutionists sat in their hideout. The book may begin with Melanie trying to escape from her captors but, other than that, there aren’t many examples of what the remaining humans are doing to take back control. Not until a final few paragraphs at the end, anyway.
Whilst I did like the book, it was this lack of action against the Souls that meant I couldn’t love it, as nothing extreme happens or is built up to, despite how thick the book is in terms of length. The humans are too compassionate to want to fight back in the end, and what we are left with is a nonsensical romance brewing inside the caves whilst the world is being taken over on the outside.
Because of this, The Host once again gets all too caught up on love to have the impact that a book like this needs, and what we’re left with is a romance that has no substance or credibility. The melodrama has little significance compared to the rest of the book, but it’s what Meyer seems most confident in writing about. Sadly, this is where the book loses its depth, forgetting to scare us about an alien takeover and, instead, trying to make us focus on whether this love triangle can sort itself out.
But whilst the romance in Twilight was the making of the franchise, the romance here makes no sense. We are supposed to believe that Jared is love with Melanie, whose body has been taken over, but that Ian falls in love with Wanderer, the Soul that has taken over her. But Ian doesn’t have the time to fall in love with a Soul, both of the alien kind and the spiritual kind. Especially when he has been happily murdering them before Wanderer’s arrival. Like Wanderer, he is far too easily drawn into the prospect of a happily ever after and throws away everything he has been fighting for in the months beforehand without a second thought. It may work in a fantasy book, but that’s not what people care about in science fiction.
Despite the annoyances of these underdeveloped and insubstantial subplots throughout, it is the detail and descriptions of the other worlds that Wanderer has lived on that you will be left thinking about, not about how the contagion of positivity and love end up being the key to human survival.
There’s a lot that the book could have done better, but there’s also a lot that you will just have to read yourself to believe me about how good [half of] this book is.
The Host was adapted into a film in 2013, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here and watch the trailer for below: