The Host is a long and captivating novel that delves into the very heart of what makes us human by looking from the point of view of aliens. Aimed at adults and told in a fast-paced, engaging style, it's sure to please more than science fiction readers and fans of author Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular teen-vamp Twilight series.
The Souls, a symbiotic alien species that attach themselves to the nervous system of their hosts, have found Earth and taken over human bodies. The human individuals are no longer distinguishable, although their memories remain. The only things that give the Souls away are the small scar at the base of the skull (which has to be opened for inserting the jelly-fish like alien) and a shimmer to the eyes that can only be seen when light shines directly on them.
Wanderer is an unusual Soul, because she has lived lives on eight previous worlds; Earth is her ninth. Thought of as especially strong and brave, she is chosen for the 20-year-old female body that was just recovered. The Souls are frightened of the humans' capacity for violence and see the few rebel humans who hide from them as a great threat. It is hoped that Wanderer can overcome such a "resistant" host and find out what secrets this rebel knows.
Wanderer thinks she should have no trouble adjusting to this body, but Melanie, the human to whom it belongs, just won't leave her head. Mel successfully blocks Wanderer's attempts at gaining information from her for months, and Wanderer can't help but feel the pull of Mel's loyalties, they are so strong.
Bothered by the inability to get rid of Mel, Wanderer sets out to see the Healer who did her insertion, only she never arrives. Under Mel's influence, she heads into the desert, looking for Mel's kin. Mel finds what she seeks, an enclave of humans, but Wanderer's journey is just beginning. Her sojourn among the humans is the heart of the narrative, where both Wanderer and the humans are challenged in their understanding of each other and what it takes to live a meaningful life.
Because she is an alien, Wanderer can be forgiven her excesses, but she seemed a slow learner, and some aspects of her reactions to the humans became tedious. The humans, for their part, are highly emotional but very consistent in themselves, so that they become stereotypes: the wise old man, the bigot, the monster, the saint, the innocent child.
Wanderer's exploration of the human body and its overpowering emotions and physical capabilities, on the other hand, is extremely interesting, and the relationship between Mel and Wanderer is the most compelling and fully examined. At times, Mel goes silent in Wanderer's head, and she is missed.
Stephenie Meyer knows how to write a page-turner, expertly structuring her chapters so each one is a cliff-hanger. The history of the Souls is fascinating, as is the concept that humans are unique in the Souls' experience, having as strongly-developed individual consciousness as the Souls themselves.
Universal themes, such as "love conquers all" and the domination of the human spirit are plainly on view here. However, the characters, particularly the Souls and their planets, are highly memorable, and I've found myself thinking of them often since I finished the book. The Host is not great literature, perhaps, but is definitely great entertainment, with some things to think about thrown in to boot. Highly recommended as a summer read.