Considering how popular Stephenie Meyer has become, it’s hard to imagine that her debut novel was only just released in 2005, because it seems like I’ve been hearing about the author for decades. The Host — Ms. Meyer’s first novel for adults — marks my introduction to the author’s charms and I can now see firsthand why Ms. Meyer is so popular.
Let’s start with the setup. While reminiscent of the Body Snatchers films/book and The Puppet Masters, there are some key differences in The Host. One, in this story Earth has already been conquered, and has been for several years now. Also, Earth is only one of dozens of planets that have been similarly subjugated. Two, the ‘souls’ are a benign alien species and in their mind they believe they’ve done humanity a favor by getting ridding of crime, violence and other depravities — concepts along with hate and betrayal that are foreign to the aliens. And thirdly, even though the planet has been conquered, the lives of those humans whose bodies have been stolen continue on. In other words, the aliens, through their human hosts, continue to feed and bathe themselves, go to work, and have relationships. Basically life is normal, except they don’t have to worry about security, pay for services or provisions anymore, and health care is much improved.
I should also note that even though The Host is classified as science fiction, there is actually very little science fiction in the book. I mean readers will get to learn about different planets — Fire World, See World, The Singing Planet, The Planet of the Flowers, the Mists Planet, the Dragon Planet, Summer World, etc. — alien species (Vultures, Spiders, Dolphins, claw beasts) and the souls’ Callings like Healers, Seekers, Comforters, and Motherhood as well as their Origin world, but overall the science fiction elements are overshadowed, so don’t expect the same kind of depth or complicated world-building that you might find in a space opera or epic fantasy series. That’s not what The Host is about.
Instead The Host is about emotions, characters, and their interactions with one another, and what it means to be human, and this is where Stephenie Meyer leaves her mark. In short, I can’t remember the last time I read a novel that was as emotionally touching as The Host, and it’s because of Ms. Meyer’s uncanny ability for writing characters that are complex, relatable, and every bit as human as you or me. What’s truly amazing about this is that the main protagonist is an alien. Of course, Wanderer is not your everyday alien. You see, she chose the name Wanderer for a reason. On average, a ‘soul’ may visit two planets before finding one they like and settling down. Earth is Wanderer’s ninth planet. Because of this experience, Wanderer is chosen to be inserted into the body of the rebel Melanie Stryder. The thought was that with her experience, Wanderer would be able to extract the information from Melanie’s memories that the Seekers need even though the long-term success rate of ‘souls’ assimilating an adult human host is under 20 percent. What no one expected though was that Melanie’s consciousness would remain aware, and driven by her host body’s emotions Wanderer would abandon her species and seek out Melanie’s loved ones.
This is where The Host gets really interesting. Because not only does Wanderer find Melanie’s lover Jared, her younger brother Jamie, and her Uncle Jeb, but she also discovers a whole hidden community of escaped humans, which is where the majority of the novel takes place. The problem of course is that Wanderer is an alien — betrayed by her silver reflective eyes — and because ‘souls’ retain all of a host’s memories, and arguably their feelings, it is extremely easy for a parasite to mimic a human. So even though Melanie’s consciousness is aware in the same body as Wanderer, how could any human being ever believe that a ‘soul’ is telling the truth? Trust is just one of the many complications that Wanderer will have to deal with in The Host. There’s also prejudice, including those people who will do anything to kill ‘it’, the vast cultural barrier between ‘souls’ and humans, a Seeker who is trying to hunt down Wanderer, the shocking secrets that both Wanderer and the rebels are hiding, and one of the most bizarre, yet fascinating love quandaries I’ve ever read: includes Melanie and Wanderer in love with Jared, Jared in love with Melanie, another human in love with Wanderer, Wanderer in love with that human, and Melanie and Wanderer’s love for one another!
I could go on trying to explain how amazing I thought the characterization was, how the incredibly poignant story made me react with such strong emotion, and why I loved reading The Host so much, but no amount of words can do the book justice. Basically, The Host is one of those rare novels that you have to experience on your own to really appreciate.
Like Harry Potter, Stephenie Meyer’s The Host is storytelling at its finest — fiction that is easily identifiable, emotionally gripping, and immensely entertaining.