#RRSciFiMonth Book Review: The Host by Stephanie Meyer
Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Rinn Reads and Over The Effing Rainbow this year, created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction! From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it is intended to help science fiction lovers share their love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
Genre: Science fiction, post apocalyptic, romance
Series: The Host #1
Publisher: Little Brown and Company (May 2008)
Author Info: stepheniemeyer.com
Wendy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
“This place was truly the highest and the lowest of all worlds – the most beautiful senses, the most exquisite emotions.. the most malevolent desires, the darkest deeds. Perhaps it was meant to be so. Perhaps without the lows, the highs could not be reached.”
I’ll never read the Twilight series or even watch the movies, but I thought it only fair to Meyer that I at least check out one of her books. This was it.
A race of parasitic aliens has traveled the galaxy for ages, taking over the bodies and minds of the dominant species of a planet and making it their home. They change the worlds to suit them and, obviously, the species themselves. These aliens believe themselves to be doing the right thing. To be fixing the wrongs that the previous species committed to their world, to each other, and to other species on their planet. Until they meet up with those gosh darn plucky humans and some of the aliens are forced to rethink their way of life.
Wanderer has lived many lives. Now the “soul” is faced with the reality of Melanie, her host. Melanie is a young woman with a strong desire to live, trumped only by her strong desire to protect the people she loves. Her mental and emotional strength make it impossible for Wanderer to overcome the host’s impulses, and worse, as Melanie’s memories and dreams continue to plague her, Wanderer finds herself growing to love the very same people Melanie is trying to keep her away from. The two must come to a grudging truce in order to deal with this situation, and end up on a desert trek to find the human hold outs against the alien invasion.
So. This is a great concept. Melanie and Wanderer’s interactions are intense as the latter tries to understand this new reality of a host who fights back and the latter desperately tries to keep on fighting. The opposing forces of their personalities are evident in many ways, including, and most notably, in Melanie’s strong-will versus Wanderer’s mousiness. This dichotomy is important. We are constantly hearing about the need to see more “strong female characters” but there’s a lack of understanding in what that actually means. Melanie is indeed strong-willed, but what makes her a strong female character is that she’s a reasonably well fleshed out character. So is Wanderer, even with her constant state of fear and tears.
Unfortunately, I’ve read a few reviews that criticize Wanderer for her “weakness.” While I understand that it can be hard to empathize with such a character and the desire to see heroes who we can look up to in our entertainment as they overcome adversity … the thing is, there are a lot of women — a lot of people — who struggle with standing up and facing down their fears and to condemn them for that certainly doesn’t make it any easier. It also moves things dangerously into the realm of victim blaming. “If she is going to just sit there and cry, then she deserves it.” Leave the weak one to their fate rather than helping them find their inner strength.
Fortunately, Wanderer does find her inner strength, with encouragement from Melanie rather than belittlement. She doesn’t get up guns a’blazin’ all of a sudden to save the humans she’s come to love. She shows her strength in other ways, but alas, because she’s spent so much of the book folded in on herself and her fear, some readers might not give her credit for this. Wanderer and Melanie serve as a reminder that strength and weakness come in many forms and exist on a sliding scale. They are not separate entities, the one to be reviled and the other praised. They are intrinsically linked and we will all have our moments of both.
That said, this book does have a problem. It comes with the men in Melanie and Wanderer’s lives, and seems to be a common theme in Meyer’s work, based on what I do know of Twilight. Melanie is in love with Jared, and by default, Wanderer comes to love him too. A threesome, just as we have in Twilight. But wait! There’s more! Ian gets into the mix and he is quite fond of Wanderer. Wooo a foursome with three bodies! This is meant to be a romance, but none of this is sexy or romantic as the men frequently battle it out physically and verbally over the women, and impose their will upon them, either through the hatred Jared feels over losing Melanie, or the over-protectiveness Ian has for Wanderer.
This is where the victim blaming thing becomes extra dangerous because, while Melanie could fight back against the manly manliness on display, Wanderer is not conditioned to and therefore it is quite easy for both men to impose themselves on her. This is a situation that many abuse victims find themselves in and are unable to get out of, no matter how easy one might think it is to just “get up and leave.” Meyer tries to address this several times through various characters, but in the end, she ties everything up in a nice bow that involves stealing someone else’s mind and body so that everyone can live happily ever after. Not gonna lie. I enjoyed the book for the most part, right up to that epilogue which had me cringing for many reasons.
Meyer does at least give the two a far more important and healthier relationship with a male, which is Melanie’s younger brother, whom they both will do anything to protect. The story might have been far more powerful if more weight was given to this relationship, instead of the airtime that the foursome gets.