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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"The Host" by Stephenie Meyer

Official Stephenie Meyer Website
Order “The Host
Read An Excerpt
Read Reviews of “The Host” via Blog Critics, Graeme's Fantasy Book Review, SciFiChick + SFF World

AUTHOR INFORMATION: A graduate of BYU, Stephenie Meyer made her debut in 2005 with the extremely popular young adult vampire novel “Twilight”. Since then, the author has released two #1 New York Times-bestselling sequels in “New Moon” and “Eclipse”—with the fourth volume “Breaking Dawn” scheduled for publication August 2, 2008—while “Twilight” has been adapted into a film (Official Twilight the Movie Website) that hits theatres December 12, 2008 and stars Kristen Stewart (Jumper, The Messengers, Panic Room) and Robert Pattinson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). “The Host” is Stephenie’s first novel for adults.

PLOT SUMMARY: Earth has been invaded by a peaceful species that take over the minds of their hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Most of humanity has succumbed, but pockets of resistance exist and it is the Calling of the Seekers to stamp out any insubordination.

Melanie Stryder is such a human and after she was captured, her body was given to Wanderer in hopes that the invading ‘soul’ might be able to determine knowledge of other rebels. Wanderer knew 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.

Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions and memories of the man Melanie loves—Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer yearns for a human that she should be turning over to the Seekers. When outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off on a dangerous and uncertain search for the man they both love…

CLASSIFICATION: While marketed as Stephenie’s ‘first novel for adults’, the violence, language, and what little sexual innuendo that can be found in “The Host” is extremely tame and is quite suitable for teens and younger readers. In fact, if not for the depth and complexity of the book emotionally and thematically, “The Host” is really not that far removed from being a YA novel. Genre-wise, “The Host” obviously possesses science fiction elements, but is more akin in spirit to such stories as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Puppet Masters, Alien Nation, Planet of the Apes and V: The Series, where SF is downplayed in favor of more thought-provoking issues like the resiliency of humanity, overcoming cultural barriers, interspecies prejudice, and so forth. However, instead of being fueled by adventure, thrills or horror, “The Host” is essentially a character-driven romance.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 624 pages divided over 59 chapters and a prologue/epilogue. Narration is in the first-person, present-tense via the ‘soul’ Wanderer. “The Host” is a standalone novel, but the epilogue all but promises that sequels are on the way :) May 6, 2008 marks the North American/UK hardcover publication of “The Host”. Jacket design is by Meryl Sussman Levavi.

ANALYSIS: 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. Not immune to such massive hype, the
Twilight Saga has been high on my reading list for a while now, but it is “The Host”—Stephenie’s first novel for adults—that 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 & 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. After all, 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 Stephenie who displays an uncanny ability for writing characters that are complex, relatable, and every bit as human as you or I. 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 that 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 & Wanderer in love with Jared, Jared in love with Melanie, another human in love with Wanderer, Wanderer in love with that human, and Melanie & 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…

CONCLUSION: Since I haven’t read the
Twilight Saga I have no grounds on which to compare “The Host”—Is it better or worse than the Twilight Saga? How different are the two? Et cetera—but as a first impression of Stephenie Meyer’s work, I couldn’t be more impressed or more satisfied :) Like Harry Potter, Stephenie Meyer’sThe Host” is storytelling at its finest—fiction that is easily identifiable, emotionally gripping, and immensely entertaining…


Anonymous said...

Hi Robert!

Wonderful review. I had been eager to hear what you thought of THE HOST. I'm really glad you liked it. I have it in my tbr pile and after your review i'm gonna probably have to start that sucker today. (i'd been holding off cuz of it's girth ;) )

I think you might dig the Twilight series, aswell.

Take care (and ofcourse, say hello to the fam!)

Robert said...

Thanks Reanimated :) You know, I was a little bit worried because of all the hype, but I was blown away! In fact, I really didn't even notice how big the book was. The pages just flew by :D So, I hope you enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

It's better than the Twilight saga in my book. The Twilight saga becomes bogged down in books two and three by a forced love-triangle and a less than sympathetic first-person narrator.

Liz said...

Hi Robert

I am really thrilled by this review - it's excellent. I can' wait for my copy to arrive. Keep up the excellent work.


Angiegirl said...

Lovely review. I agree, it didn't feel long to me at all. Loved it.

Anonymous said...

Well, you had me until you compared its writing to Harry Potter, which has prose as sharp as a wet noodle, and characters as two-dimensional as cardboard. But you've not steered me wrong yet, so maybe I'll pick this one up regardless...

Robert said...

Thanks for the comment Nashville Book Worm :) I've read a lot of different opinions between the two. Some readers seem to like the Twilight Saga more, while others The Host, so it'll be interesting to see what I think when I finally get around to reading the series...

Thanks Liz! I hope you get the book soon :)

And thank you Angiegirl :D

Anonymous, it wasn't the writing that I was comparing, but the accessibility of the two and the strong storytelling. As far as prose, Stephenie Meyer is sharper, while the characters possess much greater depth than Harry Potter and friends :)

Tia Nevitt said...

I'm enjoying your new review format. It ensures that your reviews are as comprehensive as ever! Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you decided to read this book. Several men won't pick of any of Ms. Meyer's works because the Twilight series has been so hyped as a teen gril series. The Host is a whole different world from the Twilight series and the depth of human emotion expressed makes it perfect for anyone wanting to read a story about humanity at its finest as well as its worst.

I do agree with nashville, I liked The Host better than the Twilight series, although I have really enjoyed them as well. The writing style is similar but you can tell that the author has progressed from her "raw" writing of Twilight into more style for The Host.

Was thrilled at the review!

Robert said...

Glad you like it Tia, thanks! I'm really enjoying the format myself :)

Anonymous, I'm willing to give anything a shot and try to not let preconceptions get in the way, and just let the book speak for itself. Fortunately, "The Host" had a lot of good things to say :D

Montgomery said...

I am hosting an online book group for my library for The Host on September 24. Go to the link below for more information:

Anonymous said...

I think that the Twilight saga were better than The Host. My favourite thing about her writing is that she managed to keep my attention through the whole novel. Out of the Twilight saga my favourite would be the third book, Eclipse, then Twilight, then New Moon and finally the fourth and final book, Breaking Dawn. (I do like the name of Breaking Dawn the best though)
The Host I found a little boring in the beginning, but because I already read Twilight, I knew how she wrote. So, of course I continued to read. And I loved it!
If she continues writing I will be sure to enjoy and read every single book she publishes...

Anonymous said...

hello~I am a new born fan of Stephenie Meyer,and I read her books in order,so I can see a real change (or a leap maybe?)from Twilight Saga to The Host.I love them both but for different reasons.To me, reading "Twilight Saga" was like taking an exciting adventure,yet "The Host" got me thinking about issues such as humanity,trust,family etc."The Host"surprised me with a delight knowing Ms.Meyer is genre-free type of writer who can write whatever she desires.Thank you for such a nice review~and by the way, I'm from Taiwan,and that's why my blog is written mostly in chinese^^

Anonymous said...

Hey I was wondering if anyone knew how old Ian is in the book. I couldn't figure it out! Thanks.

look! its mary! said...

why do people keep saying what a great writer stephenie meyer is? i mean the plots of her books are really good and draw you in, but her actual writing is terrible! the books are actually just awful sentence fluency combined with a disgusting amount of adjectives, disguised by a good storyline! don't get me wrong, i enjoyed reading the host, and especially breaking dawn (but how she says "caressed" 500 times a chapter made me want to barf!), it just felt like i was reading a novel written by a middle schooler with an overactive imagination.

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