narfna’s #CBR5 Review #62: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

hostSo, The Host surprised me, and The Host disappointed me.

Despite being told by several reliable sources that this book was actually . . . good? I still went in with pretty low expectations. I read all the Twilight books (even Midnight Sun and that damn Bree Tanner thing, even though both were totally useless, because I don’t know? Curiosity? Masochism? We don’t have time for a psychoanalysis here), and found them extremely problematic*. So when I found myself enjoying The Host, I should have realized that it wouldn’t be perfect enjoyment (but it does make me feel better about Stephenie Meyer having so much money).

*I didn’t necessarily enjoy book one, but I couldn’t stop reading it. Book three was soapy and overwrought. Book two was just . . . no. I found Bella detestable, and the message her behavior sent to Meyer’s young readers made me want to break things . . . but also I really like the fourth one because it is the weirdest thing I’ve ever read, and I know this has been pretty much fully covered on the internet, but A WEREWOLF FALLS IN LOVE WITH A BABY. 

The main character in The Host is Wanderer, a member of a parasitic alien race that has taken over Earth and enslaved the human race. They call themselves Souls, and besides the fact that they totally enslave alien races all over the galaxy so they can have bodies, they are peace-loving, kind, and have technology and healthcare that has all but eliminated suffering and premature death. Humanity barely fights back anymore. Wanderer is one of the oldest, most experienced Souls, having experienced life on almost all of the planets the Souls have colonized. But Wanderer’s host, Melanie, won’t let her get away with just taking away her human body. Her refusal to just fade away begins causing problems for Wanderer, both among the souls, who see Melanie’s body as defective, and for Wanderer herself. Melanie’s memories begin to change Wanderer and soon enough, the two have teamed up in order to find Melanie’s missing family. From there, love quadrangles, suspicion, and lots of people living in caves. Oh, and did I mention that the love quadrangle involves one guy being in love with Melanie and the other guy being in love with the alien parasite who lives in her brain. (So, yeah, this book isn’t without its bits of ridiculousness.)

Stuff I liked: the premise. I’m always down for alien invasions, especially ones that involve body snatching, and I like what Meyer does with her take on it. The aliens have already won, and the focus is on one of the aliens as protagonist instead of the humans. The first 1/3 of this book goes incredibly fast, and I really liked the way Meyer set up Wanderer’s world and emotional journey. Relatedly, the thematic consistency was pretty impressive (finding a home, chosen family, body stuff), especially in comparison to Twilight, the message I got from that being roughly . . . boyz boyz boyz TWU WUV.

Stuff I didn’t like: it was too long, sort of. Too long for the events that occurred in the story, anyway. The middle of the book was kind of a slog because nothing was actually happening except FEELINGS, and people talking about their FEELINGS. Meyer’s dialogue is also really cheesy and fake sometimes (although I will acknowledge a couple of lines were genuinely really good in that authentic this-could-maybe-actually-happen sort of way that all good books should aspire to). For the most part, I thnk Wanderer/Wanda was a great character, but in parts she also walks a fine line between being ‘complicated’ (having seemingly conflicted personality traits and desires) and being Mary Sueish. Meyer sort of set her up to be this way no matter what because of the nature of the Souls. Wanda herself comes off as pretty cool — the problem is more that other characters treat her like she’s the second coming of Mother Theresa, so good and so pure and so noble. But I also feel like this sort of works because Wanda and the Souls are friggin’ aliens. I’ve probably spent more time than I should thinking about this, and I’ve decided that’s probably a good thing. It’s at least better than Bella Swan sitting up in her room crying for three months straight and then taking a nose dive off a cliff just because her damn boyfriend dumped her.

Which reminds me, I really liked the ethical quandaries and shades of grey (that phrase is ruined forever) inherent in the Soul/human conflict. The souls are portrayed as gentle, kind creatures, and yet they enslave entire species (and until Wanderer/Wanda spends extended amounts of time with them, she has a hard time seeing the species they enslave as anything but hosts). The humans are violent and mercurial, and yet capable of adapting and treating Wanda, an alien, as more important than someone of their own species. The humans grew to love Wanda so much they violated their own rules by stealing her a body. I also liked that that the alien invasion wasn’t easily solved, and that it was more like background for the real story, which was Wanda finally coming to terms with who she is and what she wants.

I still wish Meyer would tone down some of the melodrama, but the vast majority of this book was worth my time. Hoping the sequel comes out soon so I don’t have to re-read this, though. God bless Wikipedia.

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