Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review - The Host

Back when it first came out, my wife plowed through Twilight and enjoyed it enough to recommend that I read it. This was just at (or slightly before) the onset of the major hype surrounding the franchise. I read the book and found it fluffy yet fun. I didn't outright dismiss it, but it didn't strike a huge chord with me enough to get caught up in the excitement surrounding it. A couple of years later The Host was released. We picked up a copy but let it sit idly on our shelf for the past couple of years. Finally after some recommendations (mostly from people who weren't big Twilight fans either), I picked it up and dove in.

From a very high level the plot of The Host is "Invasion of the body snatchers as told from the perspective of one of the body snatchers after the invasion has been nearly 100% successful." The idea is that there is an alien race (called "Souls") which visits planets and parasitically entwines themselves into the nervous system of another race. In this way the Souls get to live out the life of a different race. The lifespan of Souls is very long (almost immortally long) so that they will often continue to implant themselves into body after body for many generations. The Souls may also travel from planet to planet and implant themselves into a variety of different species in order to have a variety of different experiences.

As the book begins, the Souls have apparently been on Earth for a couple of years now and have nearly completely taken over. There are a few pockets of un-implanted humans here and there over the world but they are not a major threat to the Souls and over time the Souls send out Seekers to find these humans and bring them in to be implanted.

There are some interesting parallels to be made with the Twilight series in that there are human and non-human groups. In The Host, however, the non-human group is the more populous and dominant group. As the pages turn, there is interaction between human and non-human.

The main character is a Soul named Wanderer. She has been implanted into the human body of Melanie. The problem is, Melanie is fighting back. Melanie has regained her consciousness. Even though she can't control her own body, she can shout and complain (in her mind) with Wanderer. They share thoughts and conversations. This confuses and conflicts Wanderer and eventually she goes in search of Melanie's old family and friends.

The first person narrative is rather fun and unique. Most of the time the narration is coming directly from Wanderer. But there is a lot of overlap between Wanderer and Melanie. This is handled through special formatting in italics or indentations on the page and works effectively in knowing who is speaking. I'm not sure how well this is going to translate to the screen when they turn it into a movie next spring.

When Wanderer/Melanie do start interacting with other humans I was worried that perhaps the book would quickly turn into a Twilight-esque teenage romance. Instead, I feel like Meyer did a good job of portraying the anger and mistrust that would be evident in a situation like this. The relationships between Wanderer/Melanie and the other humans (even those previously close to Melanie) felt realistic and convincing. This is a good thing because most of this book is about the psychology of the interactions and relationships. There is some action in the book, but most of the time the book is full of introspection or interpersonal dialog.

As the book progressed and the story became more and more involved, I worried again about how everything might resolve itself. I guessed early on at a predictable method of ending the story (which was basically how it played out), but as Meyer added more and more problematic layers to the plot, I became less and less sure of how she was going to make things work out. So even though it was somewhat predictable, I felt like she got to the end in a natural and acceptable way.

I found myself enjoying this book a lot more than I expected to. I planned on enjoying it about as much as I enjoyed Twilight…not fabulous, but not trash. While it's not "book of the year" material for me, I actually really liked the character interactions and the creative storyline. There were a number of pretty cool sci-fi elements twisted in as well as some well crafted scenes of notable tension.

For those who get totally turned off by teenage romance style books, be warned that there is a romantic element in this book. It's a strange sort of love-triangle/square thing. It is a significant plot point but even as a non-romance fan I found it adding to my interest in the plot rather than turning me off from the book.

If you're looking for an adventurous body-snatchers sci-fi book filled with running, chasing, fighting, etc., this is not the book you're looking for. But if you're interested in a thoughtful book with some well crafted concepts about interpersonal and interracial relationships, this could be a fun read for you.

3.5 out of 5 stars

View all my reviews

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

i was rather turned off by the twilight series...which i did not feel was very well written...the concept sounds pretty cool and i like the unlying things you point out on relationships...maybe i will give it a try...