It's a common trope of science fiction that of all the intelligent species in the universe, human beings are the specialest. Any alien that comes in contact with Earth is either awed by man's capacity for love or terrified by his lust for violence; whichever it is, there's never any question that homo sapiens is unique. So it's no surprise that the main character of Stephenie Meyer's instant bestseller The Host, a symbiote traveling from body to body across the galaxy, is impressed by the people she meets. It's just too bad that those people are so thoroughly unimpressive to terrestrial eyes. Using them as proof of mankind's magnificence is like advertising a bar by announcing that it has water on tap.
Meyer, best known for her Twilight series for young adults, gets credit for a terrific premise. A version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers told from the snatcher's point of view, Host follows Wanderer, one of a species of parasites that lives by stealing the lives of others. Melanie Stryder, Wanderer's latest surrogate, refuses to give up control completely, and the alien is overwhelmed by memories of Melanie's past, her brother Jamie, and her former lover Jared. Things come to a head when Wanderer/Melanie manages to find the outpost where Jared and Jamie are hiding with other members of the human resistance. Wanderer struggles to come to grips with Melanie's oversized emotions and her own awakening conscience, all while trying to justify her existence to people with every reason to want her dead.
Host has a few good ideas to play with, but Meyer never gives much weight to the horror of the invasion or the philosophical problems of Wanderer's situation, instead choosing to focus on the difficulties the alien experiences dealing with friendship and passion. The novel dips in and out of painfully trite romantic clichés, and a 300-page chunk in the midsection bogs down considerably under the weight of soap-opera meandering. Things pick up near the end, but Host is finally undone by its author's inability to write a single believable human character. Even Wanderer winds up as a too-perfect cipher, blandly Christ-like in her willingness to sacrifice herself. If this is the best the universe has to offer, it might be a good time to start lowering expectations.