Children of Dune is the third book in the Dune saga: written by Frank Herbert, it was published in 1976, seven years after the previous Dune Messiah, and in my opinion it represents a leap in terms of quality and depth that wasn’t easy to expect, especially since the first two books were already excellent.
Children of Dune marks the return of characters who had been sidelined in the second book such as Lady Jessica and Gurney Halleck, the evolution of others such as Alia and Duncan Idaho, and the introduction of new protagonists, all of them Farad’n Corrino and brothers Leto II and Ghanima. The latter two were babies at the end of the previous book, but thanks to an initial nine-year time jump here they are well-rounded characters.
The world of Dune continues to evolve and here we find ourselves in what was Paul Atreides’s worst nightmare: a corrupt and fascist empire holds the known universe under its yoke and her sister Alia is at the head of that same empire! Alternative thoughts and ideas are suffocated in blood (there’s an actual inquisition), and even among the Fremen themselves there are those who begin to think that things went wrong. In particular, the Preacher attracts crowds of listeners willing to risk repression in order to hear his words…
But I’ll stop here with the plot! Also because it’s fairly complicated, I think for the following reason: the protagonists of the book are people so exceptional and out of the ordinary that their plans and intrigues (which are always there since the first book of Dune!) are difficult to understand and the dialogues between them always have at least two or three additional levels of reading besides the most superficial one.
Given the presence of so many intrigues and plans carried out by so many different people, the book is full of failures: necessarily, in the end only one of the plans is successful, so of all the characters only one wins… And once again , as it happened with Paul at the end of the first book, the victory is bitter, it’s more of a sacrifice than anything else.
Since the beginning of this saga we have seen nothing but the Atreides sacrifice themselves to do the good of others. Duke Leto accepted Arrakis from Emperor Shaddam IV knowing it was a trap. Paul accepted his fate as Muad’dib knowing it would lead to a bloody jihad that he didn’t want. And here … It’s up to Leto II to take charge of the destiny of the whole of humanity in ways that were difficult to foresee! This struck me a lot about Herbert’s book: it almost borders on superhero or shonen territories, which certainly existed when he wrote the book, but which I don’t know if they had ever been used in a context as different as that of an epic western saga like that of Dune.
But I said above that Children of Dune represents a leap forward for Herbert, who never misses an opportunity to write about our world in his speculative fiction novel. For example, on revolution and dictatorship, here are the three conditions that can lead a population to rebel (and how to prevent it): “One: When they find a leader. This is the most volatile threat to the powerful; they must retain control of leaders. Two: When the populace recognizes is chains. Keep the populace blind and unquestioning. Three: When the populace perceived a hope of escape from bondage. They must never even believe that escape is possible!”
And, still on how to control peoples (also through religion): “I would control migration, explaining that this fosters new ideas, and new ideas are a threat to the entire structure of life. Change was dangerous. Invention must be suppressed. Individual willpower must be denied. What other function did the priesthood serve than to deny individual will?“
But there are endless passages that could be cited from Children of Dune that could seem as taken straight out of history books or political treatises. For me, it’s a fundamental piece in the history of Dune that elevates its complexity without reducing the pleasure of reading, with an incredible ending that naturally led me to start reading already the following book, God Emperor of Dune… Ciao!