Publisher: Pocket Books
Series: Heroes of Dune (#2)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 2009
Paul Atriedes is gone, lost to the sands of Dune following the death of his beloved Chani. In his wake he leaves newborn twins, and an empire on the brink of violent collapse. Three women hold the fate of humanity in their hands, but their goals are not the same . . .
I wouldn’t go so far as to call The Winds of Dune a work of feminist literature, but it is a book that puts the women of the Dune series front and centre. One of the defining traits of Frank Herbert’s series is that the men rule in the open, while the women pull the strings in the shadows. One has to look no further than the Bene Gesserit for proof of this. The Winds of Dune changes this, and does so very well. Though Jessica is the lead protagonist, all three major female characters from this stage of the series get to flex their muscles, and not all in the same way.
Jessica is of course the mother of Paul, and her role is decided by that. She is the archetypal nurturing maternal figure. Though her son has become a tyrant unleashing murder across the Galaxy, the love she has for him endures. Following Paul’s departure, we see how she positions herself as a voice of compassion in the brutal landscape her son has left behind. But we also see the steel within. She is not only the mother of Muad’Dib, but the guardian of Caladan, two roles with often conflict with one another. Walking the line between iron resolve and compassion for those around her, Jessica has always been a pivotal character, so it’s nice to have her at the forefront of the action.
Jessica’s second child Alia is in many ways the opposite. At the start of this novel she is in her mid-teens, but has the memory of countless lifetimes thanks to her unique circumstances of birth. Unlike her mother, she has no compassion, and at times feels more like a feral animal than a human. But beneath all this is a desire to hold together her brother’s legacy. It is Alia who encourages the cult worship of Muad’Dib, and she who crushes and insult (real or perceived) to Paul’s legend. Her romance with the reborn Duncan Idaho doesn’t hold up very well, but that’s not the fault of these authors. The bizarre sexualisation of Frank Herbert’s female characters is something we can get into at a later date. In this particular book, what Alia represents is a woman taking the throne traditionally held by a man. Yes, she titles herself regent and states her intention to hand the throne to Paul’s son when he comes of age, but for the time being she holds almost unlimited power. Though, even with the benefits of past lives, she is unprepared for the weight of duty her new position entails.
It is the Princess Irulan who I find the most fascinating. From the very beginning of Dune, Irulan has been in control of Paul’s legend. It is she who chronicles his reign, writing a number of texts. In the two Heroes of Dune books we see the unreliability of a narrator forced to tell a tale that is not her own. Both Jessica and Alia pressure Irulan into revising history to better suit their needs. I don’t see this as undermining Frank Herbert’s canon as some other readers have claimed. The unreliability of heroes is Herbert’s central themes. If you’re going to talk about the perils of a man’s legacy, you have to acknowledge that legacy goes beyond the control of any one individual. Just as the story of Muad’Dib is not Paul’s alone to forge, so too has Dune been built upon in unimagined ways by his Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. This, more than anything, is a fitting legacy for such a classic novel.
The Heroes of Dune series was intended to go beyond two volumes. The Throne of Dune is mentioned as coming soon in this book, and I have seen names of Leto of Dune and Irulan of Dune thrown around too. Sadly, none of these books have yet materialised. Hopefully they will one day appear, but until then we must bid a temporary farewell to Herbert and Anderson, and return to the original books. Fair warning folks, things are about to get heavy.