a review by Evie Kendal
The Host is a stand-alone novel written by Stephenie Meyer, the author of The Twilight Saga. Although it is also a paranormal romance it has much more of a science-fictional feel and is quite different to Twilight. As such, I argue it is likely to have a wider audience appeal. Stylistically, the writing is easy to follow and there are lovely short chapters that make the reader feel as if they are progressing quickly through an intimidatingly thick novel.
The Host is essentially the story of a love triangle between a human male, his recently near-deceased girlfriend, and the alien consciousness (or “soul”) that has inhabited and reanimated her. It opens with the implantation of this soul into the girl by the “Healer” who saved her. The Healer, Fords Deep Waters, is conflicted about his role in this implantation (or “insertion”), and it is unclear at first whether this is because he believes it is a violation of the human girl. However, it soon becomes clear that these souls are at war with humans and Fords’ concern is for the soul that is being forced into this girl and will have to relive the trauma of her last minutes. At this point the science fiction and fantasy elements really come to the fore as it is explained that this soul has lived on at least seven planets and inhabited a variety of different host species, including a dragon. The soul is also said to have started on “the origin,” although no explanation is provided for what this means. The justification for the non-voluntary implantation is stated to be the need to extract information from the human host.
A few choice quotes from the early chapters explain the premise of the novel well. The first one describes the soul regaining awareness inside the revived girl and reliving her most recent memories.
The memory that was not mine was so frighteningly strong and clear that is sliced through my control – overwhelmed the detachment, the knowledge that this was just a memory and not me. Sucked into the hell that was the last minute of her life, I was she, and we were running (pg 10).
Things get interesting though when the host consciousness starts communicating with the parasitic soul creature after it accesses an image of her boyfriend.
I knew nothing of what passed for beauty among these strangers, and yet I knew that this face was beautiful. I wanted to keep looking at it. As soon as I realized this, it disappeared.
Mine, spoke the alien thought that should not have existed.
Again, I was frozen, stunned. There should have been no one here but me. And yet this thought was so strong and so aware!
Impossible. How was she still here? This was me now.
Mine, I rebuked her, the power and authority that belonged to me alone flowing through the word. Everything is mine.
So why am I talking back to her? I wondered as the voices interrupted my thoughts (pg 13).
After this point the description of the battle between the souls and the humans becomes more animated, with two conversing souls referring to the human host as a violent rebel who was injured while making an escape attempt. The “Seeker” who hunted her down and handed her over for implantation claims that humans “happily kill” their kind if allowed to roam free, using this as a justification for her violence toward the host. It is clear throughout this conversation that the souls believe they are a peaceful species, and it is interesting that the narrative opens from their perspective, rather than the “rebel” humans (those who refuse to serve as hosts). Later one of the rebels refers to the souls as “peace-loving body snatchers” since they believe they are improving Earth by subduing all the violent, war-mongering humans before they destroy each other and the planet.
Following the progressive acclimation of the soul into its new host allows for the exploration of the soul’s previous incarnations, including in various alien species. Although the soul does not retain the language or memory of previous hosts, it vaguely remembers rumours about the soul species undergoing some sort of change. It is implied that this change is making them more violent, perhaps due to the influence of powerful human hosts whose consciousness could not be suppressed (which it is revealed is more likely to occur when dealing with an adult host). The soul feels the fear of the host towards them and reflects on certain conflicting versions of the war between the species.
It isn’t until a few chapters in that the reader discovers the names of the major players: Jared, the human male, Melanie, the human female host, and Wanderer, the soul inhabiting her. The lack of names at the start of the story just adds another dimension to the unique narrative voice employed by Meyers. The story of the difficult “occupation” of Earth is slowly revealed throughout the text, as is the cause of the human rebellion, from various perspectives. The whole story is framed by the developing romance; however, there is enough depth in the fictional world and plot to sustain the reader’s interest even if they are not particularly invested in the love triangle.
It is not possible to go any further into the story without giving spoilers, but suffice it to say The Host is worth picking up, even if you belong to the anti-Twilight tribe. If the first few chapters do not capture your interest then it is safe to discontinue, because the opening gives a firm indication of what the rest of the narrative is like. If you’ve ever wondered how Invasion of the Body Snatchers would run if taken from the perspective of the invaders, or Star Trek: First Contact from the perspective of the Borg, then The Host may be the book for you. Recommended for young adult and adult readers who have the time to commit to a 620-page novel (there is also a “reading group guide” provided at the end of the book which is a nice touch). Although the romance between Jared and Melanie certainly isn’t perfect, it is a vast improvement over Edward and Bella’s as there is open acknowledgement of the power differentials between the characters and some attempt to address them.