Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review - The Host

The Host – Stephenie Meyer

The Host

I read the Twilight series out of curiosity and overall found myself pleasantly surprised by the saga. Having said I had no intention to read anything further by Stephenie Meyer. That was until I went to see my niece who was very ill with Shingles. Knowing I like reading she told me to read the Host as it was “Oh my God amazing.” Being the caring uncle I am, I thought I would surprise her and read it on the sly. I don’t need an excuse to read Stephanie Meyer but this is the reason I am. What is a week out of my normal reading?

The blurb:

Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy. Humans become hosts for these invaders, their minds taken over while their bodies remain intact and continue their lives apparently unchanged. Most of humanity has succumbed.

When Melanie, one of the few remaining "wild" humans is captured, she is certain it is her end. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, was warned about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the glut of senses, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Wanderer probes Melanie's thoughts, hoping to discover the whereabouts of the remaining human resistance. Instead, Melanie fills Wanderer's mind with visions of the man Melanie loves—Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she has been tasked with exposing. When outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off on a dangerous and uncertain search for the man they both love.

(Some small spoilers).

This book is massive. On the Kindle it states that it is only 600+ pages but the writing is so small that this is misleading. The paperback is 864 pages.

Therefore I quickly realised this book would be vastly different from the Twilight series. However, I was not expecting how vastly different it is in regards style and prose. In fact, I defy any cynical fantasy/sci-fi reader to read the opening 100 pages of the Host without knowing who it is written by and not enjoy it.

The story has a very post-apocalyptic feel to it. The idea feels unique and although it is essentially a love story, SM does a good enough job of creating tension and helplessness that this is not a distraction.

Both souls that occupy Melanie’s body are likeable. The entity known as the Wanderer, although a strict follower of her mission, also shows compassion towards the Host she inhabits. This is a rarity for her kind and SM does an excellent job of portraying how the Hosts body and memories gradually influence the alien being residing in the shell. When the “Wanderer” becomes disillusioned with her mission it is believable. You also feel pathos towards her as she doubts her abilities and questions whether or not she is a failure for not suppressing Melanie fully.

Melanie too is a good character. Enraged at the invasion of her body, she is shrewd in what she reveals to the Wanderer, protecting elements of her memories and choosing when to impose herself.  At the same time, through her memories we are also shown her more compassionate side, when she allows the Wanderer to experience her blossoming relationship with Jared. SM could easily have fallen into the sanguine Bella/Edward type language, but to her credit and to my relief Melanie often uses these memories to manipulate the alien inside her. As a result the tender moments are actually well handled and believable.

The majority of the plot occurs when Wanda finds Jared and Jamie. What follows is an interesting study of human nature as each of the survivors in the clandestine community react to having an alien living with them in different ways. Most interesting of all, is how Jared reacts to “the Host” and Ian interacts with Wanda. It is an interesting dynamic made even more complicated by the other characters who all have their own reasons and motivations for treating Wanda the way they do.

The Aliens, almost become secondary to the plot. Whilst this is good as it allows the plot to focus on the characters, it does remove the threat they pose somewhat. Once again, with a SM novel, I wished the plot had gone in one direction and it did not.  The characters never appear to be in any danger. The setting of the caves does feel claustrophobic but also “Comfortable.” This is a shame as SM could have achieved some really powerful moments with a few twists.

The ending is satisfying, but again could have been better is SM had chosen to end it a few chapters earlier. Instead, what we get is satisfying but does not leave the lasting impression it could have. Having said that, I have since read that SM is working on a sequel so that at least explains things.

Overall, the Host took me completely by surprise. It far exceeded my expectations and SM has satisfied me enough for me to look forward to her next offering.

My rating: 8.9