The Story: The Host, a stand-alone novel by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, focuses on the unique relationship between Melanie Stryder, an average Human, and her alien parasite, Wanderer/Wanda. In a not-so-distant future, Earth is silently invaded by benevolent aliens, called Souls, who believe that mankind is too malevolent to inherit the Earth, so they introduce themselves into Human bodies in an attempt to make the Earth a better, safer planet. As part of this exchange, the Human bodies have their own consciousness wiped clean. But in Melanie’s case, she holds on to her identity while Wanda struggles to gain a foothold. In time, Melanie/Wanda encounter a group of Humans who haven’t yet been possessed by a Soul. But will they take Melanie in? And what will happen to Wanda when they find out that Melanie isn’t entirely herself?
My Take: I admit I was curious to check out this offering from Meyer outside of the Twilight series, which moved from being mildly entertaining to irritatingly insipid for me. Hence, upon its release, I decided to pick up The Host, which is billed as a sci-fi novel. While the premise is interesting, the story itself falls into the same pitfalls that caused me to not possess much enthusiasm for Twilight, namely some forgettable lead characters and a plot hinging on a rather dull romance.
In terms of the alien-based premise, I think the concept of having aliens “possess” Humans is certainly workable, especially in the way Meyer presents it. In similar stories, the aliens are usually hostile and wish to destroy humanity by hijacking their minds and/or bodies. But in The Host, the aliens (called Souls) simply wish to override Humans’ inherent desires to kill and destroy. However, despite these good intentions, it’s not without consequence as the alien host has its own identity that is in constant conflict with the human body’s consciousness should it survive the parasitic exchange.
Such is the dilemma of Melanie Stryder, the host body, and her inhabiting Soul, Wanderer (later called Wanda). Initially, this was a great battle of wills as Melanie manages to retain her consciousness and wars with Wanda’s desires and inclinations. In reality, this conflict isn’t supposed to happen as the Soul is supposed to have full control of the host, so this generates a great element of tension that, for a time, works fairly well. However, the struggle seems overlong and becomes repetitive so that, in time, the novelty factor wears off. Much like Twilight, The Host presents a good central concept that eventually becomes cyclical and over-extends its stay, so to speak.
Also like in Twilight, a love triangle exists in this novel. This time, it’s among Melanie/Wanda and Ian and Jared where Melanie loves Jared, who is her old boyfriend, but Ian has feelings for Wanda. While I suppose this was supposed to present another element of conflict between Melanie and Wanda, it got too convoluted for me.
For starters, Jared and Ian were forgettable characters who could have been interchangeable, meaning there was really nothing to set them apart for me other than Jared likes Melanie and Ian likes Wanda. (Does this kind of have high school crush vibes to it? It did to me and I felt that these characters weren’t high school age – seeing as this book was marketed more for adults – but I could be wrong.) Likewise, I didn’t find it possible that Ian could be 100% in love with Wanda when he’s experiencing her through Melanie’s body. (Wouldn’t that mean there has to be some sort of attraction to Melanie since she’s the physical face and form of Wanda? Just a thought.) In a nutshell, I tend to dislike stories that hinge solely on a love triangle (or whatever geometric shape this romantic set up was supposed to be – a quadrilateral maybe?). Again, like Twilight, The Host suffers from basing itself on a romantic element that unfolds rather clumsily and becomes overdrawn.
In its favor though, The Host does have tighter writing and less inane and questionable characters than Twilight. It also doesn’t bear the hallmarks of a debut novel and at least presents an interesting idea that, for a time, is genuinely interesting. But it eventually succumbs to the drama of near-insta-love chemistry and is drawn out far longer than what the elements of the story probably allowed for. (I sense this might have made for a better novella than a novel for that reason.) For sci-fi fans, you’ll want to note that the science fiction element here is slight as it seems like the plot is comprised of 90% romance and 10% sci-fi, making it more of a love story with sci-fi overtones rather than a science fiction tale with an underlying romantic element.
Content: Content-wise, this is relatively clean (from what I can recall as it’s been years since I’ve read this). I can remember a few minor profanities but nothing excessive, no graphic or gory violence, and no sexual content (other than two characters who want to sleep together but ultimately decide it’s not the right thing to do). Again, my memory is a bit rusty (hence why no detailed breakdown of the content); but to her credit, Meyer doesn’t pen smut and can still be a popular author, so for that I extend to her some kudos.
Overall, The Host is a rather dry, repetitive read that I had to force myself to finish, which is never a good sign. I read this years ago and the only thing that stuck with me was how forgettable it was, as oxymoronic as that sounds. I suspect this will appeal to fans of Meyer who want to sink their teeth into (no vampire pun intended…okay, just a little) something less teen drama-filled than Twilight. For general readers, there are some things to like here, namely the character conflict between Melanie and Wanda, but they occur early on in the novel and the rest of the story feels like it exists just to rehash itself.