Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Review: Dune Messiah

I completed reading Frank Herbert's Dune Messiah last Sunday, and planned to write my review and post it here by Wednesday, but the food poisoning that laid me low this week put writing far from my mind. Today is the first day I've had any desire to write or energy to do so.

I'll be honest from the start: I did not enjoy this book. The first book in the trilogy, Dune, was good, my main complaint about it being length not content. This one, however, failed to deliver the punch that its predecessor did.

The book starts out with the antagonists, a curious cabal of four galactic misfits: a steersman, who is a fish-ish, manish creature who lives in a mobile, see-through tank of orange gas; a reverend mother of the Bene Gessaret; a "face dancer" of the Tleilaxu (today we'd call him a shape-shifter) of unknown motives; and Princess Irulan, wife of emperor Paul Atreides, the object of the conspiracy. Yes, the death of the emperor, who then had reigned about 16 years, and in whose name jihad was being waged across the galaxy by the Fremen of Arrakis, the planet nicknamed Dune. The goal: kill the emperor and end the jihad.

Paul, also known as Muad'dib, seemed powerless to stop the jihad on his own. In Dune he foresaw that it would happen, and that he couldn't stop it. In Dune Messiah, these four decide to take matters into their own hands. They plan to kill Muad'dib with a psychological poison--at least I think. The meeting was for the purpose of convincing the princess, the daughter of the emperor Paul deposed, a spouse yet not loved nor a mate, to join the plot. She does so.

Paul knows a plot is afoot, yet seems to do little to stop it. He can't quite see who the plotters are, and suspects only the reverend mother. When the steersman and face dancer come to Dune as part of a diplomatic mission, Paul doesn't show any suspicion towards them. He constantly allows them in his presence, often loosely guarded. They introduce two other characters, a dwarf and [I forget who the other was], and Paul lets them in too.

The issue of Paul's heir, and of a mate and an heir for his sister, Alia, is a major theme. Paul's concubine, Chani, finally gets pregnant and they plan to go to the desert caves of the Fremen to have the child.

That's all I'll reveal of the plot. The writing is good, as it was in the first book. But the writing is strange. Much of it centers around Paul's powers of prescient memory, and around how he is troubled by his own reign. This sort of thing get tiring after a while, and I had to fight the urge to skip major portions of the text.

I didn't, though I can't say I'm better for not having skipped it. While I can recommend Dune, I cannot recommend Dune Messiah--unless you were just so taken by Dune that you feel you won't be able to live if you don't read the full trilogy.

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