The Earth, in the not-too-distant future, has been taken over by alien “souls,” parasitic worm-like beings that wish to experience life as humans. Some years after the occupation, only a few scattered human resistors remain. A young human survivor, Melanie Stryder, is captured during an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a family member. Her last-ditch attempt to kill herself rather than be taken fails, and the souls heal her battered body through their advanced healing techniques. Wanderer, an ancient soul and intrepid explorer of galaxies, is then transplanted into Melanie’s body.
Wanderer expects to experience the lingering traces of Melanie’s memories and emotions after the transfer but is taken aback to find Melanie’s mind still active and fighting for control over the now-shared body. As Wanderer probes Melanie’s unwilling mind to learn the whereabouts of other humans, she comes to know of the existence of Jared, the man Melanie desperately loves, and her young brother Jamie, who are still in hiding. Under the influence of Melanie’s love for Jared, Wanderer finds herself irresistibly drawn to seek him out. The two women thus set off on a journey across the desert that puts them in deadly peril from humans and aliens alike.
The events that unfold when the Wanderer/Stryder pair meets a band of human resistors and is taken to their underground hideout form the crux of this story. The humans initially are repulsed by the presence of an alien amongst them. Will Wanderer and Melanie be able to convince them that Melanie still lives? Can the humans find a way to destroy Wanderer without losing Melanie as well?
THE HOST gets off to a slow start but picks up pace after the first 30 or so pages. This is not a conventional science-fiction novel, although the basic plot element --- the invasion of a human host by a worm-like parasite, through the nape of the neck no less --- is a classic sci-fi theme. Meyer has crafted a book that, while by no means lacking in suspenseful plot elements, is greatly concerned with the development of relationships. The complicated and evolving relationship between Wanderer and Melanie, who are forced to share one body, and each woman’s relationship with the man they both pine for, are particularly fascinating. The existence of these two women in one body is an emotional three-legged race fraught with discomfort, frustration, flashes of jealousy and growing sympathy for each other, which Meyer captures extremely well. The interactions between the pacifistic Wanderer and the wary, hostile humans she encounters are also well-sketched and nuanced.
Coming on the heels of Meyer’s successful Twilight trilogy, this book will draw the inevitable comparison with the vampire fantasy series. Although billed as a stand-alone for adults, there is nothing here that is unsuitable for the author’s young adult fan base. Readers will find many elements that have defined the earlier books --- charismatic heroes, plucky yet self-effacing heroines, suspenseful romance, complicated relationships and an engaging cast of supporting characters.
Unfortunately, the sly humor that permeated the Twilight series is somewhat subdued here. The characters in the new book are essentially serious people, consumed with nothing less than the survival of an entire species. Meyer does a good job of conveying the stoicism, creativity and strength it would take for a small band of human survivors to last under such circumstances. The story is light on technical and scientific descriptions, such as of the extraordinary healing techniques practiced by the souls, but it is to Meyer’s credit that the reader is able to be drawn into the plot without needing to know the details of how things work. It also speaks to her skill that she is able to make the reader as invested in the survival of the silvery centipede-like alien that inhabits Melanie’s body as that of the human resistor herself.
THE HOST is a nicely-paced, well-written novel with an engaging theme and interesting characters. Overall, this is an excellent (if slightly hefty) book to take to the beach this summer.
Reviewed by Usha Reynolds on April 13, 2010