Back Bay Books
april 26, 2010, kindle edition
Blurb via Goodreads:
Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. Earth has been invaded by a species that takes over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed.
Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, 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 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 man she’s never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.
*A few slight spoilers*
I bought this book years ago in its hardback incarnation and promptly stowed it to Never Be Read. I don’t know what I was thinking because even back then I hated holding a hardback (still do) and The Host as one isn’t just a hardback – it is a force to be reckoned with due to its rather healthy girth. Yep, it’s a log way around to its ending, but I found, to my absolute delight, that it was well worth the trip. So much so that this ended up tying with another book for my most favorite read in 2012.Late in 2012 I bought The Host in ebook format and almost immediately upon opening its digital pages, I fell in love. Now, I have to admit – I wasn’t expecting to actually enjoy it this much. I’ve read the Twilight series, for the most part. (Breaking Dawn, the second half, was just awful. DNFed.) As a result, I wasn’t expecting a book that was as well-written as The Host. Let’s face it, Twilight was fluffy entertainment. This one, however, engaged me on a deeply emotional level and sucked me in so thoroughly that I was staying up as late as possible on work nights to see what happened next. Every lost hour of sleep was well worth it.
The Host takes place in the successful aftermath of an alien invasion. Humans are becoming extinct and it’s not due to an ultra violent race that came in guns blazing. Quietly and with an efficiency that was downright scary, these “souls” that now inhabit almost every living human managed to take over Earth with barely any casualties, on their part and on the human front. The fact remains, though, that what’s left when a soul takes over is anything but human. While the souls think they’ve been successful, there are actually a few humans left fighting for survival in the wilderness and those few are about to get the surprise visitor of their lives. One that will change their lives forever.
I was prepared to find a pretty black and white story of good versus evil, bad aliens against brave humans, or some such cliched nonsense. What I got instead was a surprisingly riveting and complex story that slowly tethered me to it in ways I didn’t expect. We have Wanderer, one of the invading aliens called souls that is placed inside Melanie Stryder so that Wanderer can try to find the sect of rebel humans still out there. Wanderer is so named because she’s seen many more worlds and experienced many more alien cultures than almost any other soul. When she waked inside Melanie’s body, she is unprepared for the force with which Melanie fights back. This is Wanderer’s first time as a human, and she quickly begins to realize that humans may be the most intricate of all the alien races her people have ever conquered. She is unable to completely suppress Melanie’s personality, nor her strong emotions and ties to those she loved. Wanderer quickly begins to spiral into a double life where she’s unable to distinguish whose feelings are coming through – hers or Melanie’s.
At times I felt a though Wanderer and her people’s motives are completely horrifying. The thought of being taken over by a parasitic alien and suppressed till my own personality and love and life is gone is the basis for one of the most well-known scifi horror tropes today. Meyer puts her own spin on the tale by delving deep into Wanderer’s personality as well as her own motives, which she is struggling to figure out through the entire book. I found, much to my surprise, favoring her instead of Melanie, and this was despite the beyond sad acknowledgement that, if this kind of scenario were ever possible, I would never see those I loved again. But that’s why Melanie fights and soon the interesting part of the story is how Melanie and Wanderer begin to come to an understanding. It is a long and painful journey but it is also beautiful and deeply meaningful.
The actions of the souls versus humans is stark. Souls, while yes, they invaded and took over the human race, are also peaceful and see it as their task in the universe to save races from themselves that are destructive and warring. What better race to save than the human one? The souls bring with them medicine so advanced and simple to use that they make cancer look like the common cold. They demolish the need for money and simply provide to one another the things needed for day-to-day life because it is the right and kind thing to do. They create, for lack of more original terms, a utopia on Earth. The only problem is, it’s at the cost of humanity. Wanderer, or Wanda as she’s come to be known as amongst the band of rebels Melanie was with, begins to realize that maybe her people aren’t right. That maybe there’s a better way.
I don’t think the story reaches any satisfying answers what that better way is by the end. For all it’s moral dilemmas and deep exploration of the evils of humanity versus the idealistic earnestness of the souls, it is clear that there can be no perfect world. There were some things that made me uncomfortable as the author tries to tie some kind of bow on The End. One was where, at the end almost, the humans procure a new human body for Wanderer/Wanda, and they’d been stalking this young woman for a while to see ow she would suit. They wanted someone that was innocently beautiful for Wanderer/Wanda so that she wouldn’t attract attention in the sense that people would think she was trouble. They also managed to find, for some reason, someone they felt would appear very docile and almost helpless – which I found kind of creepy. Almost doll-like. I didn’t understand this because Wanderer isn’t helpless. She’s strong and brave. Yes, I get that they needed to essentially hide her in plain sight, but still, the situation was creepy. Never mind the fact that this was a previously human person whose personality had already been suppressed to the point that she would never come back. It’s just weird that no one spared a thought for that human person who’d once existed when they decided her body would make a good shell for Wanderer.
There was also some violence committed against Wanderer soon after she’s found by Melanie’s band of rebels that, while I feel it was completely realistic, still made me wince over and over. In reality, should anything like this be possible, I suspect a alien-inhabited body like Melanie’s would have been treated much worse. Still, it may have felt particularly bad because it’s Melanie’s boyfriend, Jared, who initiates the violence against her/Wanderer. And not just once. I had a really hard time buying into a love between him and Melanie at all when he could so violently strike her.
But this opens up what is the pivotal part of Melanie and Wanderer’s combined story. What led me to care for them both, despite Wanderer being from a race of body snatchers and Melanie being a shrill, unlikable personality at first. Several other characters from this point contribute to the slow discovery of Life After. There’s Ian, who also played a role in the initial mistreatment of Wanderer, who builds an affinity for Wanderer in particular. There’s Kyle, Ian’s brother, who is the most worrisome in his hatred. There’s Jeb, Melanie’s uncle, who literally saved Wanderer’s life over and over because of his fair and just practices. There’s Melanie’s brother, Jamie, who Melanie is fighting the hardest for. Many more become entangled in small and large ways that build and build upon Wanderer’s growing realization of what she must ultimately do.
I was quite undone while reading The Host. Meyer did an absolutely fantastic job of reeling me in. One minute I was hating a character only to empathize with them chapters later. I cried – a lot. And I don’t mean some tears dropped onto my shirt and I wiped them away and that was the end. No, I had to go get several tissues and have a cry-a-thon more than once. This has to be one of the most emotionally evocative books I’ve ever read. It’s that kind of read that, as soon as it’s over, you wish you were starting it fresh for the first time just to experience again the rush of wonderful it gave. I can’t think how else to get across how this book made me feel any better than that – now let’s hope there’s a sequel one day and it lives up to the level of spectacular this one sets.