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Children of Dune Book Review

Children of Dune Book Review

Children of Dune is the third & final entry in Frank Herbert’s self-styled ‘magnificent Dune trilogy’ (confusingly, he did of course go on to write three more Dune books).

And, for the most part, Children of Dune represents a return to form after the breathtakingly uninteresting Dune Messiah.

A host of exciting characters from the original Dune novel return, whilst new characters such as Paul’s Atreides’s children, Leto II and Ghanima, are surprise highlights.

Meanwhile, the Atreides reign of Arrakis is beginning to wane – their influence spent.

Herbert’s writing style continues to frustrate, however – often getting in the way of what is a decent story.

End of an Era

There’s a sombre undertone to Children of Dune. House Atreides is weary in the absence of its leader Paul Muad’dib, whilst the planet Dune itself has been altered irreversibly from an endless desert to lush greenery.

Liet Kynes’s dream of a Dune full of water, plants, and vitality has come to fruition, but it’s all gone horribly wrong. Dune’s worms are dying, fenced in by the little remaining desert. The all important Spice therefore, is in increasingly short supply.

Meanwhile, the cult of Muad’dib has been corrupted, co-opted by opportunists, merchandise sellers, and other untrustworthy riff-raff. 

Verily, is Children of Dune an end of an era. It’s nostalgic for a long-forgotten past, as the new slowly, reluctantly, erases the old. This ennui permeates through the novel, and it’s a tone that works really well.

Herbert’s third novel also manages to strike a solid balance between its two predecessors.

It succeeds in being an intellectual book (which Dune Messiah largely fails) whilst telling a compelling story not dissimilar to the first book. Leto’s II’s own journey mirrors his father’s, providing some great callbacks to the original novel.

And whilst it’s not perfect, Children of Dune provides a satisfying end to the trilogy, echoing elements of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Herbert's Writing Style Still Frustrates

Herbert is a frustrating writer. 

He’s highly intellectual, clearly, and as a big fan of philosophical novels, I can respect that. But he has a tendency to let esoteric ideas and tyrannical prose get in the way of the story & world-building.

This is a problem for all but the most patient readers.

Vague meandering and extended monologues, continue their tyrannical reign in Herbert’s third novel, which is massively frustrating.

Unfortunately, if you didn’t like the writing style in Dune or Dune Messiah, you’ll have the same difficulties with Children of Dune.

Conclusion

Children of Dune is a solid entry in Herbert’s Dune universe. As ever, it’s thought-provoking and atmospheric.

And yet I can’t help but feel that I like the idea of Dune, more than I like Dune.

The world-building is undeniably excellent, but there’s a fog that settles over the reader of Herbert’s writing. Its vagueness has a tendency to get in the way of the plot. The dialogue is grand, but inauthentic. Motivations are unclear and sometimes illogical.

But one thing Dune cannot be criticised for is its depth. And whilst, at times, Herbert’s trilogy threatens to stumble over its own ambition, its scope has to be commended.

It’s very flawed brilliance.

3/5

Dune Messiah is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback. 

Dune Messiah Book Review

Dune Messiah Book Review

Oh dear.

Dune Messiah is a mess of a book.

It successfully achieves the stunning feat of being half the length of its predecessor, whilst reading as if it’s three times as long.

The biggest crime that Dune Messiah commits, however, is that it’s tedious and boring. Sci-Fi is meant to fill you with wonder, awe, and excitement about the fantastical possibilities of science, whereas this is like reading the phone book backwards.

And that’s frustrating because the world itself, the ‘Duniverse’, is actually wonderfully creative.

He's not the Messiah, He's a Very Naughty Boy

At the end of Dune, our hero Paul Atreides braved the desert of Arrakis (or Dune) and raised an army of Fremen against the Emperor – installing himself as the top guy.

The beginning of Dune Messiah tells of the Jihad that saw Paul’s Fremen conquer the galaxy and exterminate 16 billion people in the process. Grim, but nonetheless fascinating.

So Herbert, naturally, decided to gloss over this huge moment in history and start Dune Messiah 12 years later. It’s baffling.

This isn’t the rollicking narrative-driven epic of Dune – the novel is a study of how bureaucracy and deification can lead to the downfall of governments.

Not particularly thrilling. 

But that’s exactly what this is – bureaucracy in print. Here’s an example of what to expect:

“Production growth and income growth must not get out of step in my Empire. That is the substance of my command. There are to be no balance-of-payment difficulties between the different spheres of influence. And the reason for this is simply because I command it.” 

The novel is full of menial prose like this. 

It’s jam-packed with pseudo-intellectual musings on government and religion, internal monologues sprawling all over the place, and dialogue goes absolutely nowhere.

Still, it’s not all bad. Herbert’s a smart guy and, as ever, there are some great quotes.

And much like Dune, Dune Messiah holds a mirror up to the reader, challenging their real-world views.

Meanwhile, the world remains a fascinating place, and additions such as the Tleilaxu faction – an engineering race – and the Gholans, add another excellent layer of lore.

Conclusion

Perhaps Frank Herbert sought to write a metatext, the prose as bureaucratic as the themes in the text. But I bet he didn’t.

Instead, Dune Messiah takes all of the worst parts of Dune and consolidates them into a 300 page book. 

Woeful, tedious for long stretches, and saved only by the fact that the world of its predecessor remains in-tact and a thoroughly interesting setting – I cannot and do not recommend Dune Messiah.

1/5

Dune Messiah is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback. 

Dune Book Review

In a galaxy far, far away…

George Lucas is reading Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Upon closing the final pages, Lucas happens upon a groundbreaking idea. Totally unique. 

A space opera, set upon the backdrop of a desert planet, about warriors in tune with powerful cognitive abilities. A young mentat Jedi, faced by tragedy, is forced to undergo training in order to prepare himself for a fight against space fascists.

And thus Star Wars was born.

(Now, to be clear, and to avoid a tedious exchange in the comments section, I am being mildly facetious – but the similarities between Dune and Star Wars are rather striking).

The good news here is that if you enjoy Star Wars (the original trilogy anyway), you’ll probably enjoy Dune too!

But back to the serious stuff.

Desert Power

The house of Atreides, previously of Caladan (a planet similar to Earth), is tasked with ruling the fiefdom of Arrakis – an inhospitable desert planet that just happens to provide the only source of melange (a rare spice) in the universe. 

To put this in perspective, the spice is akin to oil in our own times – highly sought after, difficult to mine, and often the source of conflict. Whereas the Atreides relied on water and wind power on Caladan, desert power reigns on Arrakis – known also as Dune.

Frank Herbert’s first entry in the so-called ‘Duniverse’, is the coming of age story of Paul Atreides – a man who’s descent from comfort and privilege into hardship is an undeniably compelling tale.

Along the way, Herbert examines complex topics such as planetary ecology and the politics of empire. Throw in some religious fervour and autocracy onto an already burning pyre, and you’ll get a glimpse into the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

The fascinating thing about this novel is that it’s Sci-Fi, but draws heavily upon fantasy, Shakespearean tragedy, Islamic mythology, and philosophy. Just to ensure it’s not too high brow, Herbert includes giant space worms because of reasons.

It’s a highly intellectual novel and surprisingly, aside from some of the writing getting in the way of a good story, it works exceptionally well.

The characters too are excellent, for the most part, with minstrel Gurney Halleck, swordmaster Duncan Idaho, and Lady Jessica of the Bene Gesserit being the real standouts. Gurney in particular acts as a delightful opposite to Paul’s serious, christ-like demeanour.

And then there’s Feyd-Rautha – a cruel, violent warrior with a predilection for poison, and member of the Harkonnens (the Atriedes’ rival house). He is delightfully cruel – a snarling, vicious individual who I only wish Herbert had spent more time writing about.

The Various Influences of Dune

In case it isn’t yet apparent, Dune is a highly thoughtful novel and like all the best Sci-Fi, it holds a mirror up to the reader, asking them to examine their own contemporary world. And bar a particularly orientalist presentation of the Fremen, the ideas and political discourse of Dune have aged well.

What perhaps hasn’t aged well is the pacing and writing. This is a novel that rewards patience. 

Enormous amounts of patience. 

Herbert has a tendency to overwrite dialogue to the point of tedium. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of it. Meanwhile the purple prose can grate. There’s also a lot of philosophical musing and portents of fate that couch banal writing behind the illusion of intellectuality. 

Still, Dune absolutely rewards the patient reader with an utterly enthralling final third. A true epic in every sense of the word, it’s easy to see why Frank Herbert’s novel is a Sci-Fi classic.

Of course, with Dune being such a seminal piece of writing – its own influences upon contemporary SFF culture and creativity are obvious for all to see. The world-building, for example, is phenomenal. 

So phenomenal in fact that Star Wars, and even Games Workshop’s own Warhammer 40k universe, borrow from it quite significantly.

Conclusion

Dune is one the most ambitious Sci-Fi novels I’ve read so far – or rather in this case, listened to, having downloaded the Audible edition. 

It’s a bit of a strange production, sometimes feeling like an audio drama – at other times an audiobook. I wasn’t entirely sold on this edition.

Regardless, the story, characters, and depth of world-building are standout successes. 

Yes, long stretches of the middle section drag, but Dune is a unique piece of writing with some phenomenal moments. 

It’s is also packed with some absolutely belting quotes such as “No more terrible disaster could befall your people than for them to fall into the hands of a Hero” – no doubt alluding to the events of the sequel, Dune Messiah.

If you love Sci-Fi, you need to read Dune. If you love fantasy, you need to read Dune. But really, this is a novel that any reader with a healthy scoop of patience should enjoy quite nicely.

4/5

Dune is available at Bookshop.org in paperback and hardback.