Updated on May 19, 2015
20. ‘Dune Messiah’ by Frank Herbert
Read my review of Dune here. [Dune spoilers ahead]
Following on from the towering sci-fi epic that is Dune, Dune Messiah picks up the narrative twelve years after the first book. The jihad carried out in Paul’s name, which he tried at every turn to avoid, has come to fruition. 61 billion people have died on hundreds of planets as Paul’s power swept through the universe, but he remains on Arrakis, battling old and new enemies.
He is married to the Princess Irulan, with whom he refuses to bear a child because of his enduring love for his Fremen concubine, Chani. But there are pressures on all sides: his followers see him as a god, the Bene Gesserit see him as potential father to a powerful heir, and his enemies see him as an obstacle to be removed at all costs.
The most fascinating character in this book is probably ‘Duncan Idaho’. I use inverted commas because Duncan Idaho actually died in Dune, but his body was preserved and resurrected by the Tleilaxu. He returns as a ‘ghola’: the body of Duncan Idaho is intact, rejuvenated even, but it is inhabited by a new consciousness named Hayt.
Much of this book focuses on Hayt: he has been planted by Paul’s enemies, but can he overcome his training and remember his past as Idaho? Can Paul make an ally out of him after all? I loved Hayt’s struggle and Paul’s determination to trust him.
As ever, the themes of Fate and free will are enormously important in this book. Paul has the ability to see into the future, after a fashion. He can see numerous paths stretching out from where he stands, and at some moments the uncontrollable flux of time blurs the future entirely.
Paul’s central battle is how far he can control his destiny and how far it has already been decided for him. There’s a tremendous Oedipal feeling that, no matter how hard you try to avoid your fate, you’re just more likely to bring it about.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t think this book was as good as the first one. Twelve years on and the planet of Arrakis is changing – there is more water now and people are more complacent with it. I loved the grandeur of the world-building in Dune and the page-by-page desperate struggle of the characters to survive somewhere almost completely uninhabitable.
I also feel that Dune Messiah suffers from ‘middle book syndrome’. It’s quite short and does seem to be setting up for an epic showdown that won’t happen until book three. Having said that, I did really enjoy Dune Messiah. The ending is stirring and has made me really excited to read the next instalment, Children of Dune. Bring it on!
If you liked my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?
Read my review of Children of Dune here.