Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Host - Stephenie Meyer Review

Publisher: Little Brown and Company 
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 619
Rating: 3.5

A species of aliens have colonized Earth.They are pacifists, unable to lie or deceive, and go by different names on the many different planets they have conquered. Here they call themselves Souls. They are silvery, ghostish and delicate when not in a host. To live they must be inserted through the back of a host's skull, where they take over its bodily functions and suppress its old mind.

Wanderer, or Wanda, is a Soul who is almost revered amongst her kind for having completed nine full life cycles on other planets before coming to Earth. Experienced as she is, however, she still has problems when she tries to take over the body of a human called Melanie. Because Melanie's body refuses to be suppressed. Melanie is fighting back.

Unexpectedly, Wanda starts to notice Melanie's activity and is affected by it. They set off to try and find Melanie's friends and family. But who would trust them, the two souls in one body, when anyone can tell there's a Soul in a human body by the bright silver ring around their pupil?

Alright, my all-time favourite part of this book was the concept and, as an extension of that, the world-building information. I loved learning about the biology of the Souls, about their history, about the new society they've brought.

I also loved the conflict between human nature and the aliens. The aliens cannot lie or deceive. Soul-run shops and hospitals always work smoothly, without any bad feeling, and everything is pristine and simple to understand. But the humans can lie and get angry, and boy are the few survivors angry that their planet has been taken over by the 'parasites'. Those who survived are living underground in squalor while everywhere else are Souls walking around in human bodies, going about their daily lives. I almost found myself rooting for the aliens, so smooth was their society. The Souls are not used to the strength and variety of human emotion - for them, everything is calm and pleasant. They do not take over humanity cruelly. In fact, they are more *humane* than the humans themselves.

I liked that this wasn't really about an invasion or colonisation. That happened some time in the past, and now Soul society is fully up and running . As you may know, I love reading about how fictional societies are set up and it was nice not to just see chaos for a change.

What I didn't like: I'm not a big fan of the romance. Is that a love quadrangle? Two minds in the same body iin love with two different men. I mean, how does that work? At least the romance isn't the main focus, because some of those men were just plain unpleasant. Meyer seems to bring up horrible men a lot.  I found Wanda and Melanie interesting, but I wouldn't say the characters are my favourite things. I was much more drawn in by the world-building. The plot was pretty good - it didn't wow me, but again, the premise was so interesting that it glossed over everything else.

The relationships thing was worrying. Why are all the men so controlling? Wanda is a Wandering Soul for god's sake, she's been on at least ten planets, shouldn't she have more independence? The treatment of girls is a bit strange. And okay, some parts dragged.

I do think Meyer wrote it quite well. She could have butchered that premise but didn't, and while she could have gone a bit further with it at times, I think it was done well overall.

3.5 stars for my enjoyment, 3 for quality (and those worrying relationships).

Recommended to science-fiction/world-building buffs, or people who love infodumps as much as I do. Having said all that, I don't think I'd particularly like the movie. I'm afraid the romance will swamp the whole thing.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Before I Die - Jenny Downham Review

Before I Die – Jenny Downham Review

Tessa is dying of leukemia, and there are no treatments left to stave it off. Before I Die documents her journey through her last few months of life, offering tear-jerking insight into the reality of love and life itself. 

I first read Before I Die months ago, and it didn’t make that much of an impression on me. Some emotion, yes, but nothing groundbreaking. So I decided to try it again, and have come to the conclusion that this book needs to be read multiple times to be appreciated.

But appreciate it I did.

I’m having trouble pinning down exactly why. I mean, Tessa (main character) is incredibly annoying. If I met her in real life, I would probably punch her. Yeah, she’s got a terminal illness but gurl if you’re going to narrate a book please stop making me want to strange you before the cancer can! However, this could be a good or bad thing, depending on how much likeability you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of realism.

That carries through to the whole book, actually. The whole book is so achingly, beautifully real. She’s no archetypal What Katy Did character. But neither is she outrageous enough to be entertaining in her unpleasantness. She’s just an ordinary teenage girl who knows she is going to die, trying to live her life the way she wants it. And that doesn't mean things like helping the orphans, by the way. It’s things like sex and drugs, things that she sees as so urgent because if she doesn't do them now she may never get the chance.

The crowning glory of the book, though, is the writing. It’s simply stunning, always perfectly phrased. I was trying to get some choice phrases to illustrate my point but there were too many to choose from so they’re at the bottom of this post. The whole thing is just so unashamedly surreal. I don’t know how Downham gets away with it – anywhere else it would just come off as pretentious, Tessa’s constant philosophising. Here, while it’s still pretentious, it fits somehow and adds to the piece.

And Adam - Adam is just great. You'd have to read his dialogue to understand. 

All this said, I would avoid the book if you like plot-driven novels rather than emotion-driven ones. Before I Die really has no plot to speak of. I mean, the ending is in the title. And there are no big twists or sudden bangs. But if you appreciate beauty, subtle tearjerkers and little insights into the strangeness of life, I recommend it.

3.5 stars.

Examples of the writing:
"You've got lots more tomorrows."

'I used to believe that Dad could do anything. Save me from anything. [...] It hurts more than I could ever have imagined.' 

'And I'll continue in this empty world, tapping silently on the glass between us.'

'If wishes came true, my bones wouldn't ache as if all the space inside them is used up.'

'How many miles we miss each other by.' 

'How easy it is for them to talk about the future.' 

'It's easy to talk in the dark - I never knew that before.' 

'It's utterly beautiful not to know my own edges.' 

'He strokes my head, my face, he kisses my tears.' 

"I want to die in my own way. It's my illness, my death, my choice. This is what saying yes means.”