Stephenie Meyer’s first novel to be marketed to an audience over the Young Adult age group turns out to be everything her best-selling YA Twilight series is: well-written from the page-turning point of view, chock-full of human emotion (even from the non-humans), and ultimately about the simplest (yet most complicated) of subjects: love.
Also, Meyer offers her readers a kind of love that doesn’t always top the New York Times best seller lists (her own work being a notable exception): inter-species love, so far between humans, vampires, werewolves, and aliens. What makes her work so compelling is that ultimately it all boils down to what makes us truly human — and truly alive.
Meyer demonstrates her gift for writing stories about characters her readers will quickly come to know and adore here in The Host. This comes as no surprise to those familiar with her YA fiction. Meyer doesn’t dish out standard boy-girl conflict-and-resolution type drama, even though her appeal to teenagers and adults alike is well documented by her sales figures.
In The Host, the reader follows the human life span of an individual ‘soul’ who calls herself Wanderer. The aliens are parasites, assigned to a ‘host’ on whatever planet they choose to live on, since they are unable to survive on their own. Additional worlds are constantly sought after and colonized to keep up with the expanding species and provide homes for them all. The souls basically live forever, simply taking up a new host when the normal lifespan of their current one ends. Wanderer is somewhat unique in her prolific race in that she has lived on a number of different planets, moving on after living out the natural span of each host, searching for something more than each life she has lived can give her.
Previous hosts of the aliens have included bats, flowers, spiders, and bears. None have possessed the complicated range of emotion that the human race is capable of. And before the souls colonized Earth, no race had resisted their control. It is only on Earth that some of the hosts rebel, refusing to cede control of their consciousness to the invasive species.
Generally the souls are peace-loving and gentle beings. Each member of society plays their own particular role because that is what they are meant to do. Currency falls into disuse as individuals take and use only what they need, and provide services or goods because that is their purpose in the community. In some ways, Meyer’s book describes a different slant on the idea of a Utopian society. The souls have perfected human medicine, eradicating cancer and other major diseases, and possessing the ability to heal any wound, no matter how major, in a matter of moments, free of charge. Now that’s health care that works.
Wanderer, with her wealth of experience and desire for a challenge, requests to be inserted into one of the few remaining mature hosts — after the initial wave of colonization, most souls are inserted into human children whose consciousnesses are undeveloped and easily overridden. Melanie is a human teenager who has been on the run with her younger brother, Jamie. Those who are still fully human are easily identifiable because when the souls take over their host’s mind they project a silvery, highly reflective ring around the pupils of the eyes. This silver ring is the passport to acceptance in society and without it there is constant danger of discovery. The other sign of the procedure is a small scar on the back of the neck, but the human rebels quickly learn to carve such a crude line on themselves. Melanie is captured and throws herself down an elevator shaft rather than face the unthinkable — become a host to the invaders.
Unfortunately for Melanie, broken limbs are no obstacle to the souls’ human medicines, and Wanderer is soon inserted into Melanie’s body. No one expects that Melanie will refuse to abdicate her own mind, and although Wanderer controls the body, Melanie is able to force her intruder to face some of what it means to be human — through memory and emotion.
Flooded with human passions that are totally alien to her, Wanderer is unable to find the contentment of her fellow beings in living a simple human existence. Melanie bombards Wanderer with memories of her first encounter with another lone survivor, Jared. Melanie relives inside their shared mind the way that she and Jared eluded the aliens, built a life for themselves, and fell in love — and the strong emotions are more than Wanderer can handle, accustomed as she is to host species with minimal sentimental range, and little inclination to fight off the parasitic invasion.
Wanderer becomes sympathetic to Melanie, and falls in love with Jared herself. Though Melanie has no desire to share Jared, she deliberately influences Wanderer’s thoughts without thinking what might happen when Jared meets Melanie’s body again. A series of clues from Melanie’s memories lead the way to a makeshift clan of rebel humans who have camped out underground constructed a community of survivors. Though Jared is among the group, he is at first the most horrified that Melanie has found him — because to him she is no longer Melanie, and discovery by one of the aliens normally means there are more on their way to subdue any stray humans. Since they have never known it to happen, the humans do not guess that Melanie is still present in her body, supplanted though her control over it has been.
Wanderer takes the abuse she is handed because she is incapable of lifting a finger against those she now loves. The humans initially treat her as a prisoner of war in the harshest sense. Slowly, by taking every precaution to demonstrate her trustworthiness, Wanderer builds herself a place in the community of outcasts. Those who were her fiercest detractors start to rely on her for her knowledge of the alien society and her ability to enter it, procure supplies, and sustain the rebel community. Wanderer even gains the love of another man, while her body tells her to love Jared — and the emotional repercussions are bizarre to say the least.
Meyer has succeeded in once again proving herself as a storyteller, with a knack for writing descriptive prose and utterly natural conversations (albeit in abnormal situations) that will beguile even readers who tend to avoid science fiction. For those who have avoided her previous works because they are labelled as young adult, this is a welcome opportunity to get to know the author and her talents.