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REVIEW: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Dear Ms. Meyer,

book review While I didn’t think it was perfect, I did enjoy your first young adult novel, Twilight. So when my fellow blogger Jia was unable to get too far into The Host, a genre-bending speculative romantic thriller and your first book for adults, I agreed to give it a try. The premise of The Host, that of an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” type story but told from the viewpoint of a body snatching alien, sounded interesting and different to me.

I must admit at the outset of this review that I almost never read books this long (600+ pages), because they can seem more like monumental tasks than like invitations for enjoyment. It took me around 120 pages to get caught up in The Host, and for those 120 I feared that a monumental task was what the book would turn out to be. Happily, The Host eventually revved up, and I enjoyed it more than I expected I would in the beginning.

The Host opens with a scene in which an alien known as Wanderer is inserted into the body of her host, a human woman named Melanie. At this point in the story, most of the people on Earth have been taken over by a parasitic alien species whose members refer to themselves as the souls. The souls inhabit the bodies of their hosts and take control of them. They have done so before on other planets and they believe they are making Earth a better, more harmonious place by doing so here.

Wanderer has asked to be placed in the body of an adult, but this presents a big problem for her because Melanie, her host, was one of the last surviving people captured by the seekers (a group of souls who devote themselves to searching out the remaining humans and capturing them so they can be hosts for other souls). Melanie attempted suicide in order to resist capture, and now that Wanderer occupies her body, Melanie’s consciousness refuses to go away. While Wanderer has physical control of the body, Melanie’s consciousness talks back to her and makes her life miserable.

In Melanie’s body Wanderer is bombarded by intense memories and dreams that center around a man named Jared, whom Melanie loved. It turns out that the souls are often drawn to other souls who occupy the bodies of the humans whom the people their own bodies belonged to once loved.

The seekers, and one of them most particularly, are interested in Wanderer’s new memories. It’s their job to capture the remaining humans who have formed a resistance and they believe that the memories Wanderer may have attained from Melanie may contain some knowledge of these humans’ whereabouts.

But when Wanderer attempts to access the information Melanie knew, which should now be available to her, she is blocked by walls that Melanie puts up to protect the humans she loved from the seekers. Wanderer’s inability to do as the seeker assigned to her has requested and provide the necessary information stymies and frustrates her, and she is so caught up in the struggle between Melanie and herself that she is unable to form friendships and relationships.

When the seeker suggests that Wanderer leave Melanie’s body for another human body, and allow the seeker to take over Melanie and mine her memories before killing Melanie, Wanderer is at first upset by the suggestion but eventually realizes she may have no other choice but to leave the body that resists her presence.

But before she takes that drastic step, Wanderer wants to visit the healer who inserted her into Melanie’s body, and see if he can help her. She decides to drive from California to Chicago in order to do so. While on her drive, Wanderer is again assailed by memories that belong to Melanie. She realizes that she may be near the humans’ sanctuary and close to the man she and Melanie both love.

With the help of Melanie, who does not want to die, Wanderer finds the human resistance. But what awaits her there isn’t exactly a warm welcome… and the man she remembers loving treats her as the enemy. Much of The Host is the story of how Wanderer eventually earns the humans’ trust and finds love and acceptance, and how the humans find hope. There is also a romantic tangle unlike any other I’ve encountered in the pages of a book, between Wanderer, Melanie and Jared… and eventually, another man who is thrown into the mix.

I liked that the story focused on the interpersonal relationships and on the moral and sociological issues resulting from the science fiction premise. Your website says that The Host is science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction. While I do like science fiction, I generally lose interest in the long explanations of fictional technologies that one sometimes finds in science fiction, and I appreciated the fact that The Host did not contain any of those. The fact that it was set in our own real world made for an interesting contrast with Wanderer’s alien viewpoint.

It takes about 120 pages for Wanderer to first encounter the human resistance members, and as mentioned before, those 120 pages went by rather slowly for me. My interest was not engaged in that section, and I almost gave up on the book. But after the first 120 or so pages, the plot tightens up and the book becomes quite engrossing. There is a lot of tension from the conflicts between the characters and the internal conflicts in Wanda’s heart. The moral dilemmas at the heart of the story are quite compelling, and in the middle section, the book kept me up until the wee hours of the morning.

There are some very interesting aspects to the souls’ background and the other lives that Wanderer, who is eventually nicknamed Wanda, has experienced. Even the names the souls give themselves and to some of things they’ve brought with them to earth fit the souls’ peaceful personalities, and I really liked these aspects of the worldbuilding.

But at the same time, other aspects of the worldbuilding are weak. For example, most of the souls are peace-loving, and it is not explained why enough of them would choose to be seekers and to hunt down the human fugitives. Nor were the explanations of how and why such a non-aggressive species had set out to conquer other worlds convincing to me.

There were also times, in the last quarter or so of the book, when I felt a little tired of reading about Wanderer/Wanda. All but a brief prologue is written in Wanderer/Wanda’s first person viewpoint, so I’m not sure if my Wanda fatigue was due to the fact that I rarely have the patience for spending so many pages in the POV of a single character (I almost never persist with series that follow the same main character past one or two books), or if it’s because of Wanda’s personality.

In the course of the story, Wanda ultimately becomes so self-sacrificing, sweet and sincere that at times I found her difficult to relate to. I don’t know if this would be a problem for other readers, but I prefer flawed characters and Wanda was almost too good to be true.

Also, though some of the humans initially wanted to kill Wanda, her eventual acceptance seemed too quick and too thorough to be entirely believable to me.

When the ending arrives, as heartwarming as it is (and it is very heartwarming), it is also a little like watching one of Cinderella’s stepsisters trying on the glass slipper — something doesn’t fit right. The problem is that because the body snatching premise is so dark, what I feel I know of how most human beings would respond to something like that seems to me to require a grittier tale and an ending that isn’t quite this sweet.

Combine this factor with the fact that Melanie and Wanda both seemed immature to me (albeit in very different ways), and The Host doesn’t always read like a book for adults — there is something of a YA feel to it.

Still, the concept of telling an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” story from a body snatcher’s POV is fresh, the plot takes some unpredictable twists, the romantic conflict makes the love story different from any other that I’ve read, and all of these factors make The Host compelling enough to make me feel that I don’t regret reading it. C+ for The Host.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

25 Comments

  1. rrw
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 05:33:45

    I have to agree totally. I enjoyed the book right up until the end. (well, I’ll say most of it had peaks and valleys but on the whole enjoyed it) Personally, I love a HEA ending but only when the story FITS that. This story,imho, did not need a sunshine out of your butt ending.

  2. Joy
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 08:17:16

    I had not read the YA books (although everyone recommends them to me). However, I really enjoyed The Host; it kept me up at night. I think it could have been edited down some but I enjoyed Wanda’s story. While reading it, I didn’t think people accepted her too fast; it wasn’t as if everyone evolved at the same time. I agree the ending maybe didn’t fit the story but it fit the tone of the book (if that makes sense).

  3. rebyj
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 08:54:54

    Here’s what I wrote about it at RT when I read it a few weeks ago. I agree it really had the YA feel about it.

    I found it very readable. It’s a good premise, it really could be a fantastic series . Negatives are that it has no sexual tension/heat. Her young adult fan base could easily read this without their minister having a stroke. yeah I like me a good sex scene or two when I shell out almost 30 bux for a book lol.

    I give it a B+ because it IS a very good read but it loses marks for me for being to squeaky clean and the somewhat weak males.

    Without getting into spoilers it is a fantastic world building experience , very vivid characters, even the “host” and “parasite” are very well written in such a way that you do care about what happens to both of them thruout the book. Her heroes as I mentioned above are weaker but not to the point of being unimportant to the story line.

    If she continues this storyline as a series I’d like to see the hero characters built up better and I’d like to see a more evenly described view of the other human hosts and I think the last chapters kind of set that up. Melanie cannot be the only human out of 23 billion to have been strong enough to survive and affect her alien parasite.

  4. Janine
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 11:16:21

    rrw — I too love happy endings but want them to fit and to feel believable. It does look like we are in agreement.

    Joy — The book kept me up too, in the middle at least. But I had to take some point off for the ending and for how slowly the book got off the ground. And also for the believability issues I brought up in the review. I feel that this book had a lot of strengths but also a lot of weaknesses. I hemmed and hawed about the grade for a while because it’s a more interesting book than many others I’ve read, but interesting doesn’t mean it was as successful for me as it could have been. I had a review copy but I’m not sure I would have felt I’d gotten my money’s worth had I purchased it in hardcover.

    rebyj – Interesting review — thanks for posting it. For me The Host became very readable after Wanda met with the humans, but the beginning was something of a slog.

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    I agree there isn’t that much sexual tension but how much could there be with Melanie sharing Wanda’s body and objecting to Wanda using that body to touch a man? But yes, this was one of the things that made the book feel like a YA book.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “somewhat weak males.” Do you mean that the main male characters seemed like weak people, or that they play a more minor role in the story than Wanda, or that the characterization itself could have been stronger where these characters are concerened?

    I felt that most of the characters could have been given more depth than they were. I agree that they were vivid, though. The worldbuilding was strong in some ways but weaker in others. For example, I think that a species as evolved as the souls should have questioned their actions in taking over other species, and at least debated this issue, earlier in all the centuries they had lived.

  5. rebyj
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 11:53:32

    Its been awhile since I read it. The uncle’s character was well written but then it seemed as if he was somewhat forgotten later on in the book.
    I’ve lent the book out so I can’t refresh my memory of the two main male characters names. Anyway, in reading fiction especially “romantic” fiction I want to know more about the men. All the men in this book to my recollection could have been interchangable. None stood out as far as character is concerned. Melanie loves this one, Wanda loves that one, it could have been either/or . The fact that I can’t remember their names tells me that yeah, they’re characters could have been fleshed out a bit more.

  6. Jia
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 11:55:35

    See, I thought the worldbuilding aspects were weak. There were parts where I actually started laughing out loud, and there were other parts where I thought to myself, “Wait, that doesn’t make any sense!” That combined with the slow start were what prevented me from being able to get into the book.

    Of course, i also think the worldbuilding in her Twilight series leaves much to be desired, so take the above opinion as you will.

  7. Janine
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 12:07:48

    rebyj — I see what you mean but I actually felt that the two love interests were pretty different in personality. One was very competent but also more violent and tough/ruthless, the other was more compassionate and empathetic. That was how I saw it anyway.

    Jia — I had a few of those “Wait, that doesn’t make any sense!” moments too. Where I felt the worldbuilding was stronger was in giving the aliens an interesting past and in the names they used for the things they’d brought to earth. Those things didn’t come up until further into the book so I don’t know if you got that far. But yeah, there were definitley holes in the set up.

  8. Robin
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 12:54:33

    The title is fascinating, especially as a double entendre. Was that intentional, I wonder? Because I’m reading the Twilight series right now, and I keep joking to myself that I can no longer say I don’t read inspy Romance, lol. Anyway, there are so many issues related to the nature of good and evil, to sin, to fate v. free will (which I think is the central theme of the series), and to what makes one human. It sounds like maybe some of those issues are in play in this book, too.

  9. Janine
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 13:07:56

    It is interesting that you mention the title, Robin, because as I read I kept thinking that the book should have been titled “The Soul” or (though I don’t think anyone in the marketing department would go for it) “The Parasite,” since it was far more focused on Wanda than on Melanie.

    And yes, a lot these themes are in the book, especially good vs. evil and what makes one human.

  10. LesleyW
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 16:25:57

    I really liked this.

    Perhaps the only thing I disagreed with was it being marketed as Meyer’s first adult book. I always imagined the end of the world would involve more swearing and sex. So I think it definitely had a young adult feel.

    I’m not saying that as a negative – other than the publisher marketing it as adult. I loved the story and would be happy to read more set in that universe.

  11. Serena
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 16:40:44

    Janine, I believe “The Soul” is the title of the sequel.

  12. SonomaLass
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 17:02:45

    I agree with your grade here, and with a lot of your reaction. I did enjoy the book, and in particular the basic narrative (Wanderer/Melanie) perspective. I do like longer books, and I do like first person POV, so those things didn’t bother me. But I agree that the ending felt contrived, and that the “everybody’s peaceful” characterization of the aliens was a bit much to take. The quality of the writing was better than I expected, but the male-female dynamic wasn’t to my taste, anymore than in her other books.

  13. Janine
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 17:08:33

    Lesley and SonomaLass, thanks for your perspectives. I’m glad you enjoyed the book, Lesley.

    Serena — Is there definitely going to be a sequel then? And do you know if it will follow Wanda or another character?

    SonomaLass, I don’t dislike first person, when it’s well-executed, as it was here. It wasn’t the first person voice that was the issue for me, but rather the fact that there was only one POV for upwards of 600 pages. I think that a single POV might have gotten a little monotonous for me in third person just as it did in first.

  14. Joy
    Aug 25, 2008 @ 18:26:59

    …it’s a more interesting book than many others I’ve read, but interesting doesn’t mean it was as successful for me as it could have been. I had a review copy but I’m not sure I would have felt I’d gotten my money’s worth had I purchased it in hardcover.

    Janine – Valid points. I am a big nerd so sometimes get caught up in interesting concepts and I got it from the library. I think my perspective would have been different if I’d pay hardcover prices for it.

    Also, it was one of only 2 books I took on my July 4th vacation and ever since I was a child I always feel compelled to finish books (although JR Ward is making me break my rule – I’ve been reading the last one for over a month). I think if I’d had other options, I may not have made it past the slow beginning. I handle slow middles better (Life of Pi being my perfect example of why to finish all books you start)

  15. DS
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 11:34:17

    I almost bought this book. Then Breaking Dawn happened and I wonder if she is as committed to her world building/canon as I like authors to be. I think I’ll wait and see if the sequel causes screams of anguish from people who read the first book.

  16. Amber
    Aug 21, 2009 @ 19:01:36

    I am currently reading “The Host” and am finding it very redundant with regards to the vernacular that Meyer uses. She constantly repeats about how Wanda forgets to breathe, is terrified, can’t believe she wasn’t killed “this time,” and so many others. I feel that the idea behind the story is really fascinating, but I get irritated every time she mentions emotions or actions that have already been expressed multiple times. Although there are interesting facets of “The Host”, this book is definitely not striking me as a huge literary feat. Also, I feel that she is really trying to set up Jared almost like another Edward for people and it’s not working. So far, he has been a fairly uninteresting character. Even Wanda’s character is set up with an altruism that seems phony, even though the objective is for the reader to being taken aback by her disinterest in her own safety over that of others she cares for. I think I will continue trying to read with an open mind since I have thus far invested time into this novel, but am truly not impressed.

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  18. ani
    Dec 14, 2009 @ 08:34:20

    This story is very similar to Octavia E. Butler´s SEED TO HARVEST

  19. MW
    Mar 27, 2011 @ 21:24:13

    I admit I haven’t read the book and now probably won’t having read the reveiw and comments. I don’t know what to say……humans being invaded by souls???? That’s not a very original premise as apparently we have souls and have no need to be invaded by them. Or maybe a more original name could have been chosen for the aliens that are invading human bodies. Like lets say the aliens could be called something like the Lanos – stealers of bodies. This is just the word salon with the letters switched around. It takes very little creativity to think up a word a little more exotic than souls. Plus with the romance thing sounding like leftovers from Twilight….I just can’t….. But whatever….. she is the bestselling author so there ya go.

    I dunno…..all I can do is wonder how these things come to be.

  20. Anonymous-Reader
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 20:45:55

    The Host is a wonderful book, but I can see how some readers would have trouble relating to Wanda in the last parts of the book. What I’d like to say is that Wanda IS the innocent alien, with very little experience with selfishness and anger. So it’s only natural for her to be self-sacrificing when she fears her “family” may be in trouble. So if those of you that were confused go back and reread some of the end with this perspective, maybe you’ll understand it better? All in all, The Host is the best science-fiction/romance novel I’ve read, and I highly recommend it.

  21. Anonymous-Reader
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 20:54:58

    As a reply to the review above me, MW- The love-triangle in The Host is actually very different from Twilight, and is difficult to explain. You can’t understand until you’ve read the book. Also, remember that the “Souls” aren’t native to Earth or any of it’s languages, so Stephenie probably named them Souls to stay true to the plot and/or not confuse the reader. Wanda’s opinion on the name “Soul” is written very early in the book (first chapter, I believe) so that could also clear up some confusion you had.

  22. Betty Moore
    Oct 31, 2011 @ 23:29:11

    Hmmm…interesting review but not really compelling. Perhaps I just don’t fit the reviewer’s opinion of a sophisticated reader – I am voracious when it comes to reading. After filling my walk-in closet with books, as well as half of my dresser and a multitude of bags and boxes, I finally purchased an IPad and I’m now working on filling it as well.
    I am definitely an adult (55 yrs old) but I devoured Ms. Meyer’s Twilight series while on vacation a few years back. Were the books young? Yes. Idealistic in the author’s vision of paranormal romance? Yes. Sophisticated, edgy, deep, erotic? No. I loved them! I loved the simple enjoyment of a romantic fantasy complete with vampires, werewolves and teenage angst. And I loved “The Host” as well. I read the book in 2 days. (Again, on vacation.) To MW – I believe that the aliens call themselves “souls” much as many Native American tribes refer to themselves as “the people.” A simple statement of identity, nothing more…or less. I don’t believe that the choice of that word was due to a lack of creativity on the author’s part – I found it particularly apt as this particular “people group” (the aliens) quite simply see themselves as apart and above other “tribes” in the universe…as noted by their unrepentant view of themselves as saviors of others, helping other races to become better than they were before being inhabited by “souls.”
    As to the book in general…yes, it is unpretentious and unapologetically idealistic in it’s unique approach to a love story, an alien invasion story, a split-personality story. Like Ms. Meyer’s former writings it didn’t wallow in pages and pages of erotica, which I find to be refreshing and delightful. I do love me a good vampire, werewolf, fey, shaman, etc. story, and it’s a shame that so many books written in the genres are filled with foul language and unnecessary physical descriptions of heaving, swollen, enormous and sweaty this, that and the other thing. I LOVED “The Host” and don’t feel bad about recommending it to others. The story is creative and unique and once I picked it up it was very hard to put down. It entertained me thoroughly and I didn’t feel the need to delve into the whys and wherefores of the story’s construction…I simply revelled in the story itself, especially the ‘too happy’ ending. C’mon, think about the premise of the story in the first place…you really feel like you need realism in the ending? Talk about split-personality. Try to just enjoy!

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  25. Linda
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 18:16:59

    The early part of the book was difficult – but what you understood what had happened it made sense. I loved the book and Ms. Meyers writing! It is about how an alien learns to be human- and everything it means to be human! Vivid colors, smells, sounds, memories – powerful feelings of love, lust, fear and hate. Just like the Twilight series, it is her masterful ability to capture and create so much through characters conversations. I am NOT a cry-er but at the end of this book….

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