Book review and recommendation: Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
Hello! Today I'll be reviewing the third novel in Dune series: Children of Dune. This novel was published in 1976 and is a sequel to Dune Messiah which in turn is a sequel to original Dune novel. In case you are not familiar with Frank Herbert writing, there are six novels in the Dune series. Moreover, there are more books set in Dune Universe that were written by other writers. I will probably not review those books because I didn't find them interesting and enjoyable enough. I mostly write book reviews for my own pleasure. Naturally, if you have read any of these, I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you have any book recommendations to share, please do. If not, that's alright as well. We can always talk about something else in the comments. As always, I do my best to avoid spoilers, but since I'm reviewing a series, there are bound to be some. If you don't want spoilers, I recommend just skipping this review.
If you remember what I wrote in my last review, Dune Messiah feels anti-climatic because it undermines and questions Paul's success. While some dislike sequels for that reason, I actually admire the author for taking such a bold risk and making the sequels so different from the original book. Some might call the sequels a bit confusing. I actually wouldn't argue with that. Herbert's writing is not mean to be simple. This science fiction series is meant to provoke the reader. If you like your typical black and white, clean cut characters, this is definitely not a series for you. The characters are constantly re-examined and questioned in all of Dune novels. The writing can feel overwhelming at times. In this novel we slowly start to glance at the appearance of the 'golden path', something that will be fully explained only in the sequel to Children of Dune.
So, what kind of world do we meet in Children of Dune? One thing is obvious from the start. Children of Dune are growing up in an endlessly complex word. It is indeed suitable to call them children of Dune because their destiny is woven with those of this harsh and magical planet. The author is very successful in throwing things upside down and keeping the reader on his toes.
Who rules Dune? Paul sister Alia rules as regent monarch until his children grown of age. Alia has been a faithful sister to Paul, but now that she has acquired power, she might be reluctant to let go of it. The siblings, Leto II and Ghanima, feel this. With time they realize there might be good reasons to fear their aunt. Alia is a complex chapter. I already said that this is not a novel of typical good and bad guys. Sometimes it is hard to say who is who. In my last review, I mentioned that Alia is a character tormented by loneliness and entrapped by her greatness. Alia's fate is an unique one.
Alia has known the past life of all of her ancestors while she was still a child in a womb. When Alia's mother Jessica drank the poison, both her and her unborn child went through the agony. Jessica had the training that made it possible for her to survive the agony and control the voices from the past. Alia was just a fetus and had no defenses against this invasion of past. Moreover, Alia has grown up knowing the past lives of all of her ancestors. Therefore, Alia was sometimes referred to as 'abomination'. The Bene Gesserit use this term to mark someone who has awaken to the memory of past lives without proper training and can therefore become ruled and possessed by them. At the start of this novel, there are doubts that Alia has indeed become an abomination.
Paul and Chani's children Leto II and Ghanima are also pre-born like Alia. They were born with the powers of their father, Paul Atreides and can see into the past. There is a risk they too will become abominations, creatures controlled by their ancestors. Moreover, they also posses prophetic powers. Leto II is afraid he will turn into his father and become imprisoned by the visions of future. That is not the only thing the twins have to fear. Their enemies are numerous. The Bene Gesserit are not the only ones who fear the 'abominations' and want them dead. There is a princess from a fallen royal house that would not want anything better than to have the twins killed.
Lady Jessica will step onto the scene once again. With Paul gone, she returns to meet her daughter and see whether the thing everyone fear might be true. Lady Jessica will also cast a careful eye to the wildly talented twins. It is a family reunion that is painful to watch, as Jessica both fears and loves them. I was glad to see Jessica step on the scene again because for me she is one of the most fascinating characters in the series. Jessica is a woman who rebelled against the discipline of her sisterhood, something practically unheard of, when she gave birth to Paul and defied the orders of sisterhood. This act of love has changed the course of history forever. Jessica must carry within herself both guilt and pride for she has proven herself capable of great love but at the same time with love we can also endanger others. Powers can be biding and the power of love is perhaps no different.
Another notable character that appears on the scene is The Preacher- a man Fremen believe to be Paul. This man talks against corrupt governments and questions Alia's rule. He will soon become involved into events. Other notable characters that will appear again in this sequel alongside lady Jessica are Duncan and Gurney, two men loyal to the house Atreides. These two are perhaps the only ones that are willing and capable to offer help to children of Dune. Princess Irulan, Paul's wife in only title, cares for his children, but isn't able to do much. For most part, these two kids will have to rely on themselves.
One thing I found quite touching is how close Leto II and Ghanima were. These two kids are faced with a bloody heritage and their supernatural abilities are hardly enough for them to cope with the cruelty of the universe they live in. More will be needed than the power to look into the future. Prescience is not nearly enough, because in that path lies the danger, as they can see by observing the fates of their parents and aunt. Their aunt is struggling, trying to follow in the footsteps of her epic brothers. Their aunt who is now a woman, and one that was never really a child. What about them? Can they fight the past of? Can they refrain from glancing into the future?
These two siblings are not copies of their parents. It is clear the kids see a need to make their own decision and yet they know too well how much depends on them. As this weight presses on them, it is hard as a reader not to feel for Leto II and Ghanima. It makes you almost hate their father for leaving them with such a legacy. It makes you almost forget how much you sympathized with him in the first place. I mean I loved Paul, but reading this novel, I feel a got a new glimpse into him. He didn't seem so epic anymore. In retrospective, Paul felt more human. At first, I was almost annoyed with him but then I started to understand him better. After all, wasn't Paul also a little more then a child when he became the one, the man that sees in both future and past? He was also very young when he got the vision, only a teenager. I suppose in a way I could see both Paul and Alia mirrored every time I read about Leto II and Ghanima.
The twin protagonists of this novel are both fascinating and disturbing. The connection they have with one another is deep. They are kids and they are not kids because they remember the past. Not having a past is precisely what makes one a child and still they posses the vulnerability and innocence of children. This makes the story even more heart breaking for me. I could really feel for them, being so isolated and alone, with nothing to rely on but one another- especially in the beginning of the novel. As I already said, some family friends will be there to help them, but the weight they have on their back is immense.
I can definitely praise this book. The plot is great, the characters are masterfully portraited and the signature Dune atmosphere is there every step of the way. There is a lot of scheming and adventure going on. In that sense it is more fast paced that the second book in the series and more like the original Dune novel. The first book of the series- the legendary Dune was a monumental feat- it is just one of those things you can say a lot about and you have a feeling you'll never get to the core of it. However, it is worth noting that parts of the second and the third book were written before the original Dune was completed. The author didn't write the sequels to cash in on Dune's success. When you read the sequels, you can really feel that they were planned. The sequels feel different from the original novel- but I think that's actually a good thing. Herbert wasn't recycling anything, he really had this fantastic vision that spans over the series.
Children of Dune is a great novel. Fortunately, the quality of Herbert's writing does not diminish in the sequels. On the contrary, it can be argued the sequels are just as good as the original. I personally feel that every new book in a series is a whole new world- and what a world it is. This third book in the series is particularly brilliant. Highly recommended! Stay tuned for more Dune book reviews and recommendations.