Well unfortunately the time has come I review a book by Stephanie Meyer, might as well get it over with. Now some of you may be scratching your heads thinking, “Critic reading a Stephanie Meyer book? Perhaps I should check the weather to make sure it’s not raining cats and dogs and that the horsemen of the Apocalypse haven’t come.”
Well here’s the truth: last summer, my friend lent me the book because I did intend to read it with the intention of doing a review. However, upon reading the first few chapters, I put it down and forgot about it. Actually scratch that, I put it down because by God, it was just headache inducing trying to get through the bad writing. However, eventually I managed to force myself down to finish it.
Now, before one calls me out for being biased, I have a confession. In my youth I did like the Twilight Saga. I thought it was enjoyable until when I was older and reread it to which, I still question why I liked the series. This is a phase most people go through when they read books they liked when they were younger. Now I never read The Host in my youth, so I couldn’t form an opinion on it. Some people said it was better than Twilight, other’s said it was worse. So I sat down and read it.
Unfortunately, I can’t argue that it’s better.
Without giving away too much spoilers, Earth has been invaded by an alien race of body snatchers known as Souls. One victim, our protagonist, is Melanie Stryder. After attempting to kill herself in order to avoid being captured, Melanie is implanted with a Soul who’s known as Wanderer or Wanda. However, despite having her body taken over, Melanie hasn’t completely left the building. This leads to Wanda trying to find out where the remaining humans who haven’t been taken over.
There’s also a romance between Melanie and Jared, which takes an awkward turn when he sees Wanda now in control of Melanie’s body. Another romance that comes up is that of Wanda and Ian, a human who claims he loves Wanda and not Melanie.
Here’s the problem with the plot: while body snatchers have been done before, The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney in 1955, it is still an interesting idea to work with. However, there is a big reason as to why the whole concept of body snatching doesn’t work in this story: there is no real reason for the Souls to invade Earth. They claim that they invade planets to perfect them, in the case of Earth, it was because Humans were deemed too violent to have a planet. Now if Meyer was trying to comment about Humans and the way we treat our planet, and saying we don’t deserve, she didn’t exactly do a good job executing the idea.
The reason for the Souls invasion is a weak excuse. It would be one thing if the Souls were in need of resources, trying to populate on other worlds because they feared extinction or out of survival. In Dr. Who “Vampires of Venice”, the alien race that is living in Venice seek to turn humans into their own kind because their home were destroyed by the Silence, which led to much of their kind being killed. While it is seen as wrong, from a human perspective, the “vampire” aliens have logical justification as to why they invaded earth and can invoke sympathy.
Meyer’s Souls justification is not strong enough, even weakened by the fact that the Souls “perfect” the world, basically solving all problems that Humans are dealing with. It raises the question: is this invasion really that bad? Sure there is a lack of free will, however, the Souls do not really pose a threat or actual danger.
If Meyer’s Souls had stronger reasons as to why they invade other worlds, then the conflict within Melanie’s body between Melanie and Wanda would have been more interesting, causing readers to be torn with siding Melanie and humanity or Wanda and the Souls. It would also make Wanda’s confliction about aiding humans or remaining loyal to her own kind interesting and deep.
Now, tackling the whole romance issue, I have to admit that the romance between Melanie and Jared was actually creepy. Sorry to spoil this but this needs to be said, Melanie met Jared while she was trying to steal food from an abandoned house. He stumbles onto her, threatens to kill her but then discovers she is actually not possessed to which he forces a kiss on her. Even though she defends her self and runs away, they eventually “fall in love”. Now, if a guy threatened to kill me, I wouldn’t form a romantic relationship with them, even if they only did it because they didn’t know if I was possessed or not.
The other problem with the romance is that is basically the focus of the story. Wanda falls in love with Jared just through Melanie’s memories. Call me cynical, but normally most people (I’m pretty sure this even applies to aliens) do not fall in love with people when they haven’t met them before. A person who sees someone across the room may think they are attractive, but they know next to nothing about them. Even though Wanda is seeing Melanie’s memories about Jared, she’s only seeing him interact romantically with one person, and that person is the person Wanda’s taken over, not herself.
The second romance between Wanda and Ian, without wanting to spoil too much, is also problematic because even though he claims to love Wanda for her personality, the second body she inhabits is described as being very beautiful which then boils the relationship down to a purely physical attraction. It would have been interesting if Wanda inhabited a body that was not as attractive or even if she was in a guy’s body.
Overall, the plot is weak and drags on for way too long. It could have easily boiled down from 619 pages to 200. The ending was also anti-climatic, trying to make sure that everyone, and I mean everyone, gets a happy ending.
I’m really going to focus on Melanie and Wanda because I have more problems with them than the other characters. Will start with Melanie Stryder. This was my problem with her as a character. She is, or at least attempted to be depicted as a strong girl who is constantly trying to fight Wanda over her body. It’s the idea of showing she is going to fight to the end to reclaim her body. That’s fine but here is where I question her: she eventually forms a friendship with Wanda, her invader, and decides in the end that she would rather have Wanda in control of her body rather than herself. I’m sorry but this is classic Stockholm syndrome. Yes, the story is mostly told from Wanda’s point of view but still, even when Melanie is able to project her own thoughts, it reminds the reader that Melanie is essentially a captive. For her to have formed a friendship with her captor and even insisting that her captor lives while she loses everything is not heroic or noble. It makes the character inconsistent. If her priority was to fight for control over her body, even when Wanda appears to help the human survivors, Melanie would still try to fight for control. Now, lets forget about the Stockholm Syndrome like mindset for a moment, even if Melanie wanted Wanda to live, it would have been more logical for her to suggest ways Wanda could get her own body and not have to possess Melanie’s. However, she doesn’t suggest this, and I still think that her decision to let Wanda keep control over her body is contradicting to her character.
Wanda as a character is okay, but the problem I have with her is that from the beginning, you can tell that Wanda is going to have to eventually make the choice between supporting the surviving humans and supporting her own kind. Yes, it can be interesting at times when she is struggling to take control over Melanie’s body, I will admit. Here’s where I had problems with Melanie: she doesn’t have real character flaws. She claims that she can’t lie because Souls don’t lie to each other. It seems that is the only problem with her, she’s just a bad liar. If Meyer didn’t make the aliens unable to lie or even commit violence (I don’t like violence mind you), then it would allow Wanda to be more interesting and deep as a character, along with having significant character flaws such as being deceptive or quick tempered. To me, she was just bland.
With regards to the other characters, specifically the human survivors, is that they are too trusting of Wanda. Yes, Melanie’s mind is still in partial control of her body. However, there is still an alien inside her, which should make people more suspicious of her because she could turn on them at any point. The other problem I have with Meyer’s characters is with Jared and Ian and that is mostly due to the “romance”. The way in which Meyer rights the characters, she depicts them as really having a physical attraction to Melanie and Wanda, the biggest indicator being in the end with Wanda and her new body.
Let me wrap up my thoughts with the characters, Meyer still needs to work on creating more in depth, complex characters as well as keeping them consistent. While most of the characters I didn’t really care about (if I don’t care about the characters, you’ve got a problem), Wanda was at the very least, not as bland as the rest but she was still bland.
Now onto the writing. Good Lord, the writing was abysmal and I’m being generous here. One rule with writing that’s a good idea to follow is to keep sentences short. It is possible to use few words to get a point across. Here’s an example of Meyer’s problem with this rule.
“Ford gave Darren a look that could only be described as a glare” (4).
You could have just said, “Ford glared at Darren.” Same message gets across.
Another problem is that Meyer put in pointless descriptions, some of them laughable at times.
“The human girl was the one with ears, and she still slept soundly” (6).
When I read that, I could not stop laughing. What was the point in describing that? Do humans possessed lose their ears? It’s pointless description that Meyer did not need to include and her editor really should have cut out.
Another problem is that Meyer tries to write intense, suspenseful scenes. The biggest scene that comes to mind is when Melanie tries to hide from the Seekers. Meyer shows Wanda living Melanie’s recent memories. The scene is suppose to be suspenseful, Melanie worried that she is going to get captured. The thoughts she has when she’s hiding are okay, but when she’s running, they are too long and the pacing loses any suspense or tension.
Other problems she suffered with in the Twilight Saga are still present in The Host, over use of adverbs, telling and not showing. This happens too frequently for me to say that her writing has improved. If anything it has declined.
Honestly, I can’t recommend The Host, even to Science Fiction fans. The story itself focuses on the romance and doesn’t really, aside from dealing with alien body snatchers, have many Sci-fi elements to it to justify it as Science Fiction. The plot is weak, the characters are bland and about as interesting as wet paint, and the writing is poor. Though it honestly boils down to what you prefer. If you don’t mind flimsy plot, flat characters and poor writing, then I would recommend The Host. If you prefer a complex story, compelling characters and decent writing, then I’d recommend other Sci-Fi books.
Final Grade: D