The Host – Spoiler book review

Book cover

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

Available on Goodreads

My rating: 2/5

As the title suggests there are spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read the book yet but plan to, I suggest you don’t read ahead. Instead, check out my spoiler-free review of the book.

You have been warned.

The Host tells the story of Wanderer, a member of a body-snatching race of aliens known as “souls” that have invaded Earth. When she wakes up in her recently acquired human body, Wanderer finds that its previous owner has not gone gently into that good night. Melanie Stryder’s consciousness remains, and when she shares her memories with Wanderer, the lonely soul finds herself falling in love with the man Melanie loves – Jared Howe, a human who still lives in hiding. Both longing to see him, Wanderer (and Melanie) set off to find him.

I really struggled to get through The Host. I never considered not finishing it, but only because having seen the movie adaptation, I was interested to see what more of the story the book had to offer. Nevertheless, I often found myself frustrated while I was making my way through it, and it was always when the book ventured into supposed romance, or into Wanderer’s unrequited feelings for Jared.

I can’t deny that there are things about the book I liked, but the effects of those parts that irritated me were so prominent in the story that the parts I liked couldn’t make up for the parts I didn’t.

Subsequently, reading the book has left me with a lot to say – though I tend to be opinionated about fiction, whether those opinions are good or bad. But, before I get into my thoughts, here’s a recap of the book for anyone who hasn’t read the book in a while.

(If you don’t really need a recap, skip down toPossibly a worse love story than Twilight”. See what I did there? Again, spoilers ahead.)

Plot summary

Whilst The Host’s synopsis focuses on Jared, when Wanderer and Melanie go looking for him, they are also looking to find Melanie’s brother Jamie. They aim to make sure both the people they love are okay. Additionally, they are trying to escape a Seeker, one of the souls tasked with hunting down the remaining human population. This particular soul wants to be inserted into Melanie, in place of Wanderer, to see what she can find in Melanie’s memories about the remaining human resistance, and then get rid of Melanie’s “faulty” host body.

Wanderer (and Melanie) search for Melanie’s uncle, Jeb, hoping that her brother and boyfriend have made it to him and a secret hideout he kept – Jeb being the doomsday prep type. The journey almost kills them, but before they do, they are found and saved by Jeb. With him are an unexpected number of other humans. Most importantly, they find that Jared and Jamie are safe, and have been living with the other humans in Jeb’s secret cave system.

Things are initially tough for Wanderer. She’s taken as a prisoner; and she’s almost killed and generally abused and mistreated by the humans, including Jared, the man she came for evidently not very happy to see her. Nevertheless, Jared protects her, struggling with the idea of killing what he believes is all that remains of Melanie.

When Jared goes out on a raid, Jeb – the only human who showed Wanderer kindness early on – put her to work doing chores with the other humans, during which she tells the humans stories about the other planets she’s lived on and the other species she’s been. In time, Wanderer even finds herself with human friends, including Jamie.

There is a rocky period when Jared and the other raider return, but ultimately some humans continue to accept her. The humans even get to a place where they trust her enough to leave on raids – making getting supplies from the souls’ civilisation significantly easier for the humans – after Jared and she leave the cave system to get life-saving drugs for Jamie after an injury on his leg becomes infected.

Wanderer never does gain Jared’s love, but they do settle into something resembling friendship. The man Wanderer does find love with is Ian O’Shea. He – along with a group of other humans – attempted to kill her earlier on and were stopped by Jared. However, he is one of the humans who comes to see Wanderer’s humanity whilst Jared and his raid party are out.

Despite the continued hatred of some of the human and multiple murder attempts – including attempts by Ian and his brother Kyle – the humans who like and care about Wanderer incite reciprocated care, and even love. In time, she comes to love her small group of friends enough to trust them with the secret that could turn the tide in the continuing war between humans and souls – how to remove a soul without harming them, or the human.

Eventually, Wanderer comes to love and trust her group of humans so much that she tells them something that could help the humans in the ongoing battle against souls – how to remove souls from human without harming either. This was something that Wanderer previously discovered that the humans were attempting to do, with horrifying effects.

Wanderer was additionally prompted to give the information to the humans as they capture and intend to kill the Seeker, who had still been searching relentlessly for Wanderer. Unable to see the Seeker die, she chooses to get rid of her in a more humane way. Using the new knowledge, the humans – with Wanderer’s assistance – remove the Seeker, allowing the host body’s consciousness to once again takeover. She, just like Melanie, had been resistant to the insertion of a soul. The humans and Wanderer send the Seeker, and a soul removed from another host they captured, to a distant planet.

Having armed humans with the crucial knowledge of how to remove souls and allow them safe passage, Wanderer decides its time to give Melanie back to herself. Unable to conceive of the idea of living anywhere but the planet she has come to live, but unwilling to continue to live as a “parasite”, Wanderer intends to die. However, after being removed from Melanie, she later finds herself waking up in another body; one that the original human consciousness didn’t return to after the previous soul was removed.

Not long into her time in her new body, whilst Wanderer and a small group of humans are heading out on a raid, they come across another group of humans still living in hiding. They learn that these humans are just a small number of those still out in the world. But, even more interestingly, Wanderer learns that she’s not the only soul who has gone “native” as the other soul, Burns Living Flowers, put it.

And, that’s where the book ends.

Possibly a worse love story than Twilight

As far as The Host’s main love story is concerned, I think it’s very telling that I much preferred the Lily/Wes love story. Whilst that relationship was mostly revealed through exposition, at least it had the excuse of only involving minor characters. Plus, it was a good story; boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl doesn’t notice boy until he does something that demonstrates the strength of his character, girl and boy fall in love, but then boy meets his untimely death. Tragic, but good.

In contrast, Melanie and Jared’s story was completely lacking, especially given the fact that Meyer could have, justifiably, spent more time developing it.

At points throughout the book, Melanie and Jared fervently declare their love for each other, but without observing why they seem to feel so strongly about each other, it comes across as hollow. Melanie denies that their connection has anything to do with them being the last man and woman on Earth – to the best of their knowledge, for a time – but the book never does much to convince me of that. Worse still, I think the denial actually works against my belief in the relationship.

Melanie admits that Jared made life easier for her and Jamie whilst they were living on the run, in the post-invasion world. From that perspective – with the added context of being the only non-related, sexually-compatible adults they were aware of – I possibly could have imagined how such a bond could have formed.

Given the insistence that their bond and relationship went beyond just another story of the damsel and the saviour falling in love, Meyer really should have invested in showing how and why this was the case.

Adding Wanderer’s interest to the equation only made matters worse, because the relationship didn’t serve as a good foundation for her one-sided affection for Jared, which continued regardless of any hatred or violence he showed her.

Even with the limited memories we see, I could believe that Wanderer yearned for Jared before meeting him because love was something she hadn’t experienced much throughout her long life. However, when faced with the reality of the physical and emotional pain Jared causes her, I can’t believe that Wanderer would still be captivated by the Jared he was with Melanie.

I can’t be sure, but it’s possible that if I had really believed in, or cared about, Melanie and Jared’s relationship, that I might have been able to understand why Wanderer continued to have feelings for him. Possibly, I could have even appreciated her pain as she tried to reconcile memories of the man her body loved, with the man he was to her. It may have still been unpleasant to read, but it might have been less frustrating and distracting.

Ian and Wanderer
Wanderer and Ian sitting and talking, The Host (2013)

Given my disillusionment with the love story and love tringle threads of the story, I quickly found myself looking forward to Wanderer and Ian’s romance – which I knew to expect from watching the movie adaptation. Despite it being a while since I saw the movie, I vaguely remember liking Ian and his relationship with Wanderer. Unfortunately for me, in the book, that relationship doesn’t play out much better than Jared and Melanie’s.

Early on, Ian is part of a group that tries to kill Wanderer. However, Wanderer’s species is considered the enemy and, at that point in the book, the humans don’t truly understand that souls aren’t malicious. Considering that, possibly the murder attempt could be considered understandable.

Once Ian realises Wanderer is capable of human emotion and feeling like any true human, his treatment of her changes, which was nice to see. However, as the book progresses, Ian’s continued hovering, possessiveness, and unrelenting interest in Wanderer started to seem more annoying than romantic.

Ian continually states his interest in Wanderer, and seldom lets up to give her a real chance to think. This made quite hard for me to discern whether Wanderer actually falls in love with him, or whether she just gave in and fell for the only man around who showed an interest. Wanderer’s inability to untangle her feelings from Melanie’s – Melanie’s body being seemingly unable to want anyone other than Jared – added to that lack of clarity because it made it hard to see if Wanderer develops her own feelings for Ian over time.

In the end, regardless of whether I think the couples are believable or not, Melanie ends up back in Jared’s arms, and Wanderer in Ian’s. However, the members of the supposedly happy couples each find themselves harbouring feelings for one of the people in the other couple, ie Melanie for Ian and vice versa, and Jared for Wanderer and vice versa.

This ending honestly just made me roll my eyes because I don’t think Meyer really put the work into developing the love stories to justify themselves, let alone the resulting end dynamic. It just came off as cheesy and unnecessary to me, and was just another disappointment in the romance of this romance story.

The best kind of ship a friendship

Whilst the romantic love stories were mostly a miss for me, I very much enjoyed other relationships depicted in the book. Wanderer forms several friendships with humans living in Jeb’s cave system which helped to provide a much better, and more believable, explanation for Wanderer’s growing affection towards humanity.

The first and most obvious bond Wanderer develops with a human, is with Melanie. It’s actually the friendship I had most looked forward to in the book. I remember enjoying the strong bond that developed between the characters in the movie adaptation, and I had hoped to see more of it in the book.

Melanie doesn’t appear as often as I had hoped, but there are still more moments of interaction between her and Wanderer in the book compared to the movie. These helped to further show how Melanie and Wanderer grow from enemies to friends.

However, though I liked when they spoke and worked together, I could have done without the jealous bickering over Jared, and without Melanie going on and on about how Wanderer could do things for Jared and Jamie (and the other humans) that she couldn’t. The former is because of all the reasons I discuss in the above section, and the latter because it came off sounding whiny and immature. Still, the back and forth between Wanderer and Melanie was one of the aspects of the book I looked forward to, and it was definitely an aspect I missed when it was absent.

I also enjoyed Wanderer’s relationships with two other members of the Stryder family – Jeb and Jamie. It was interesting to see members of Melanie’s family taking to Wanderer so quickly, but Meyer wrote the characters in a way that helped the relationships fit and seem natural.

Jeb’s nature, perceptiveness, and the time he says he spent watching souls accounts for his kindness towards Wanderer. That allowed for the quirky friendship between Jeb and Wanderer, always hanging somewhere between affection and mistrust.

In Jamie’s case, his youthful open-mindedness, and likely his desire to have his sister around, helped him to see Wanderer as more than just the enemy. I really appreciated this, because I loved the close relationship Jamie and Wanderer had, even if it was somewhat influenced by Jamie’s love for his sister and a good sci-fi story.

Another relationship that I feel deserves noting is Wanderer’s friendship with Walter. Wanderer sat by Walter’s side as his cancer got progressively worse, and she did so simply because he had been one of a small number of people to show her kindness and consider her a friend. It was short-lived, given his eventual death, but it helped to highlight Wanderer’s loyalty and mettle. It was nice to see some humans recognise those traits, and Wanderer’s good nature, through those actions.

All that said, as much as I liked when humans were nice to Wanderer, I appreciated the more hostile interactions she had with humans as well. Given the circumstances, these reactions were believable, and they added a realistic diversity of opinion to the story within the sci-fi context.

Furthermore, I appreciate the initial human reactions to Wanderer, despite their being mostly unfavourable, because they allowed for change throughout the story. Though some only even reach the level of tolerance, it was good to see that they had, at least to some level, come to accept Wanderer’s continued presence.

In particular, I appreciated seeing how the general human opinion of souls had changed enough to impact how they treated the Seeker after she was captured. Even though she kills Wes, they recognise her as human enough to treat her decently. It’s unfortunate that Wanderer had to work hard for it and that subsequently it was directed at a character who in many ways didn’t deserve it, but it showed that the humans had learned that the souls weren’t as inhuman as they first thought. It was touching to see that they’d really taken that lesson, and their experiences with Wanderer, to heart.

Finding a home

At its most basic level, I see The Host as a story about a being in search of a home, a place to belong. After literal lifetimes spent on multiple planets, it’s not until Wanderer comes to Earth that she finds a place to call home. (Whilst I’m on the topic, I’d like to quickly note that the novelty and creativity of the worlds Meyer imagined for Wanderer’s backstory was one of the best and most unique parts of the book.)

Wanderer finds her home with the human colony, in their cave hideout, and in doing so she comes to see that they deserve their lives, and their bodies, and their planet. Hence her decision to tell them how to remove souls from hosts. Wanderer’s decision reflects Jeb’s words when he tells her that those humans who care for her would likely favour her over a human stranger.

In favouring the humans she loves, and subsequently humanity, over her own species, Wanderer shows how human she is and further shows why Earth is where she belongs.

What will happen next?

The ending of The Host is not necessarily ambiguous, but to me, it begs many questions about the future of the world that the book is set in. Though, such questions actually started to come to mind earlier in the book.

At some point in the book, whilst out on a raid, Wanderer points out a family to Jared and Ian. The parents, as expected, are souls in host bodies. However, their child is human, the product of those host bodies. After that realisation, I started to think about what would become of the world, if souls were unwilling to sacrifice their human children to the control of another soul? What would life be like for those children? Would they ever realise how they differed from their parents? How would things change if the human population started to increase via this route?

Add to that the reveal at the end – of more humans outside of Jeb’s cave system living out in the world – and I started to think about how the remaining human population might react to the same realisation. I can’t imagine they could rest easy seeing human children in the custody of souls.

Wanderer’s decision to stay on Earth also has interesting implications. Would humans ever come around to the idea of living in peace with souls?

It’s evident that humans can accept souls. Not only do humans accept Wanderer, but the book also shows that another group of humans accepts Burns Living Flowers. Even Kyle O’Shea, who spent so much of the book aggressively hating Wanderer, comes to experience affection for Sunny, the soul he chooses to let stay in his girlfriend’s body after her mind shows no signs of return.

Furthermore, if the knowledge about how to remove souls gets out, how do humans react to the realisation that some of their loved ones just can’t be saved. Do they react like Kyle and take the person they love in whatever way they can? Or, do they choose to remove the soul and mourn the body?

There are a whole host of interesting possibilities, and I really would have liked to see how things played out.

I’m aware that Meyer has announced that she wants to make The Host into a trilogy, but she has yet to release any further books. And, even if those books are published, who’s to say what she chooses to explore in them. Plus, I may not even choose to read them even if they do come out because, despite my curiosity, I’m still slightly put off by the love stories and how they might be incorporated in any following books.

If I don’t read them, I might consider just watching the movies.

Book vs movie

The movie adaptation of The Host (of the same name) came out in 2013, and considering that I didn’t watch it in the cinema, it was probably a year or two later that I watched it. So, it was a while ago, but I definitely remember liking it – loving it, even – which has made my dislike of certain parts of the book that much more disappointing.

It’s been so long since I last rewatched the movie that I can’t remember specifically what might have been different to affect my opinion – if anything was, indeed, different.

In time, I reckon my desire to rewatch the movie and know for sure why I feel differently about the story between formats will outweigh my newfound reservations about rewatching it For now, however, I’d prefer to keep my good opinion of a movie I remember liking, over losing it to the realisation that it isn’t as good as I remember.

If you made it to the end, thank you and well done. I hope you enjoyed reading my thought on The Host, and if you have any thoughts of your own, leave them down in the comments below.

Oh, and if you’ve read the book but want to check out the non-spoiler review anyway, follow the link.

One thought on “The Host – Spoiler book review

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s