(Image from publisher's official website)
If you liked Invasion of the Body Snatchers, you're going to love Stephenie Meyers' newest novel, The Host. In this, her first book for adults, Meyer takes the body snatching thing to a whole new level.
The story takes place in the U.S. following an invasion by parasitic aliens. Since the alien "Souls" need host bodies to live, "Seekers" hunt down humans, then force them to undergo an operation whereby a Soul is implanted inside them. Erasing individuals creates a harmonious world full of peaceful Souls who work toward the collective good always. Trifles such as locks, money, and highway patrolmen no longer exist as they are simply not needed.
There's just one problem with the Souls' perfect little world - not all humans go down as easily as they should. Case in point: Melanie Stryker. When the Seekers capture Melanie's body, they implant her with an experienced Soul called Wanderer. Having lived multiple lives on several different planets, Wanderer expects to have no trouble on Earth. She's never met resistance in a host body before, but Melanie is different. She won't leave. The Seekers know Melanie worked with a rebel cell, and they want her memories - Wanderer tries to retrieve them, but Melanie blocks her every attempt. Such a blockage occurs so rarely that no one knows quite how to help Wanderer. Meanwhile, the rebel human assaults her with confusing memories and thoughts. Despite Melanie's mental defenses, Wanderer discovers her secret - her brother Jamie and boyfriend Jared are hiding out, desperately protecting their humanity. Their exact location eludes Wanderer, although she does manage to extract a sketchy map from Melanie's mind. She turns this information over to an aggressive Seeker, although it fills her with guilt to do so.
As Wanderer mines Melanie's memory for more information, she finds herself empathizing with the human, even caring about the males who dominate Melanie's thoughts. Before she knows it, Wanderer's driving east to Arizona, desperate to find the humans before the Seekers do. After a harrowing journey, she finds exactly what she is looking for, but she doesn't receive quite the welcome she was expecting. Instead, the humans dump her in a remote cell in the warren of caves they inhabit. Most of the group find her presence repugnant - they prefer to kill her or hand her over to Doc, who dissects infected bodies to gather information about the Souls. Only Jeb, Melanie's cantankerous uncle, gives Wanderer the benefit of the doubt. Jeb proves to be a powerful advocate - with his protection, no one dares harm her, but that doesn't mean they accept her either. Jared, especially, can't stand the monster with his lover's face. Others lurk in the dark caves, just waiting for an opportunity to gun her down.
While Wanderer fights to stay alive, she learns a great deal about the rebels and about human nature in general. She sees their brutality ("They might have been human ... once, but at this moment they were something else. They were barbarians, monsters. They hung over us, slavering for blood" .); their duality ("Humans were deceitful, treacherous creatures. I couldn't anticipate their darker agendas when such things were unthinkable to my species" .); and their great capacity for love ("So great was his compassion, he seemed to bleed internally with it" .). For the first time, Wanderer questions the deeds of her species. Is it right to take over different species, forcing them to act as the Souls see fit? Is it ethical to erase individuals for the good of the collective? Who, exactly, are the monsters here? The Souls, who steal bodies for their own purposes, or the humans, who annihilate each other with startling regularity? Where does Wanderer fit in - can she, a kind-hearted Soul, really be the monster the humans think she is? These are questions she must answer before The Seekers find her and force her to choose a side.
While The Host teems with moral and ethical questions that will have book clubs atwitter for days, the book really isn't about philosophy. It's not even about the action, or the adventure, or the sci-fi trappings - at its heart, The Host is a love story. Personally, I didn't find Jared that appealing, and I didn't understand how Wanderer could fall in love with him simply based on Melanie's memories, but the story really is about their relationship. Is it as passionate and exciting as that of Bella and Edward? Uh, no. But, it's compelling enough to keep you reading. Of course, romantic love isn't the only kind Meyer explores here - there's also love of home, love of family, love of community, love for a child, etc.
If you're more about the issues than the love story, there's plenty to discuss here: What does it really mean to be human? Without will/agency, are we anything more than slaves? Is the good of the collective more important than individualism? Will our compassion conquer our brutality? Like I said, there's plenty to discuss ...
While I really enjoyed reading The Host, I did have a few issues with it (of course). I liked the character of Wanderer, but I couldn't stand how helpless Meyer made her in certain situations. I mean, Melanie is a brave, resistant human and Wanderer is a strong, spirited Soul - together, they should make a steely being who can take care of herself. But, no, she has to be constantly rescued and carried about by the men in the tunnels. I'm no feminist, but c'mon! Bella (of the Twilight books) actually has this same tendency, but it's more endearing in her somehow. Like with Bella's Edward/Jacob love triangle, I also got a little tired of Wanderer's Jared/Ian issues. That's all small potatoes compared with my biggest issue, which is this - I really did not like the ending. I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't read it, so that's all I'm going to say, but dang, I wanted something more satisfying.
Is The Host my favorite Stephenie Meyer book? No (that would be Twilight), but it's one of those "unputdownable" novels that keeps you turning pages at lightning-speed. Sure, it's a bit of an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers copycat, but it's one you won't want to miss.
(You can watch Stephenie Meyer talk about The Host here.)