by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Host / 978-1-600-24565-7
I figure it's pretty much impossible at this point to not know who author Stephenie Meyer is - one way or another, you've surely heard of the massively popular Twilight Saga by now, and you probably already know whether or not you love or hate the series. For myself, I'll be honest (and probably earn ire saying this, but it's just my opinion) and say that I didn't much care for the characterization and writing in "Twilight". I thought the romance was too heavily focused on, to the detriment of all the (in my opinion) more interesting side plots, and I thought a lot of the characterization seemed a little forced and sometimes shallow. I had heard, however, that "The Host" was very, very good - even for non-Twilight fans - so I decided to check it out.
I was astonished at the size of this book - the hardcover is 656 pages and weighs an absolute ton. I almost never enjoy books over 400 pages without feeling like heavier editing should have been applied, so I'm fairly shocked to say that I completely loved every page of this book, and never felt like the pacing was too slow or needed to be sped up in any way. The plot premise is fascinating enough - starting "in medias res" after a "Pod People" style invasion of earth - but it's particularly fascinating that Meyer has chosen to tell the story from the point of view of one of the occupying parasites. The characterization here is superb - very in-depth and surprisingly well-revealed through the vehicle of the plot - and it's fascinating to see how sympathetic the narrator is, despite her alien nature. Best of all, I'm impressed at how the love interest starts out as "flawless" but is quickly and thoroughly revealed to be flawless only in the mind of an infatuated young girl - her dream man, as it turns out, is complex, human, and flawed, and therefore a genuinely interesting character.
"The Host" isn't perfect - the first few chapters are a bit of a muddle and I wasn't really comfortable with the plot and writing rhythm until about the fifth chapter. Not unlike Bella from "Twilight", the protagonist here also gets beaten up a fair bit and carried around enough to qualify as luggage, but the characterization here really *works* for me - it's fascinating to see a protagonist that is an actual, full-blown pacifist, sort of like if Gandhi were a parasitic glowing silver brain-worm. I really can't say if this is the book for everyone, but I *can* say that if the premise grabs you, definitely give this book a try, and I suspect you'll be quickly hooked. It's a rare thing for me to feel like a 650 page novel is so perfectly paced, well-characterized, and realistically driven as "The Host" is. Although I originally checked this out from the library, I will be buying a copy to add to my collection.
A word about the audiobook for this novel: I particularly like the narration provided here. The voice actress adds a lot of realistic inflection to her voice to convey the protagonist's struggle with her new, unfamiliar emotions. The interactions between "soul" and "host" are surprisingly well done without being gimmicky, and it's easy to tell which character is talking, even when they share the same voice (both in our world and in the book setting). If you're a fan of audiobooks, and especially if you're a little daunted by the 600+ page commitment, I definitely recommend checking out the audio version.
~ Ana Mardoll
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