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The Host    by Stephenie Meyer order for
by Stephenie Meyer
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2010 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Stephenie Meyer, author of the bestselling YA series - that has progressed (to date) through Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse, exploring feelings and developing relationships in a very unusual love triangle - now applies that same extraordinary empathy to a unique alien invasion story, The Host.

A host of peaceful, rule-observant, and generally altruistic aliens - who individually look like a worm or a 'lovely, feathered ribbon', depending on perspective - are in the habit of subtly taking over worlds by inserting themselves into more and more host bodies, justifying themselves at some level by the calm and order they bring. As the story opens, the vast majority of Earth's population have been taken over. We meet female human rebel, Melanie Stryder, as she robs a home of supplies she desperately needs to support herself and her beloved brother Jamie. Another original Earth human, Jared, has his eye on the same opportunity. They meet, clash, and inevitably join forces and fall hard for each other, believing that they and Jamie are all that is left of free humanity.

After leaving Jared and Jamie to take on a mission that only she can handle (it involves finding her cousin, who would trust no-one else) Melanie is captured by the aliens, who insert one of their kind, Wanderer, into her body, hoping the latter will be able to extract information on the other rebels. Wanderer is most unusual, in that she has lived on six different planets already, never staying for a second term with the same host species. She narrates the story, and does an excellent job of engaging reader empathy for her - as well as Melanie's - plight. While host's original minds are typically pushed into oblivion once the alien souls take over, Melanie's strength keeps her in there, constantly arguing with Wanderer, making her feel guilt, and swamping her with intense and volatile emotions.

These feelings overwhelm Wanderer and push her into seeking out the two people beloved by Melanie - Jared and Jamie. As she does this, she's constantly pressured and pursued by her nemesis, the very unpleasant (for one of her species) black garbed Seeker, whose job is to track down free humans and to protect others of her kind from them. Wanderer ends up in a secret rebel underground cave system hideout in the desert, where most humans want to instantly kill her. Over time, and with the help of Melanie's uncle and a man named Ian, she slowly wins the trust of Jamie and of the majority, though her relationship with Jared is initially extremely hostile. Eventually, Wanderer is faced with a tough choice - between her own life and loyalty to her people, and her new feelings of friendship and love for rebel humans.

Though I found the novel absorbing, its premise most intriguing, and its ending highly satisfying, I had some difficulty with Wanderer's extreme saintliness. If her people were so altruistic, how could they bear to live by destroying other sapient beings in the first place? That being said, Stephenie Meyer's growing legion of fans will devour The Host in one sitting, just as I did.

Note: The paperback edition features a special Reading Group Guide that includes a never-before-published bonus chapter, an interview with Stephenie Meyer, discussion topics and questions, and the author's annotated playlist.

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