Series: Dune Chronicles (#3)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 1976
Muad’Dib has walked into the desert to die. Behind him he leaves two orphans, Leto and Ghanima. Neither is old enough to inherit his empire, and so his sister remains as regent. But not all are happy with the rule of the Atreides, and some will go to desperate measures to see that era come to a violent end . . .
Children of Dune is a book in which the Atreides family attempt to enforce a divine order upon the universe. Ironically, it’s also an unholy mess. For me, this is where the Dune series starts to fall apart. Three books in, the grand ideas have faded into the background, and no longer feel fresh and bold. At the same time, Frank Herbert’s philosophies come to the fore, largely for the worse. And it’s all wrapped up in some rather dreadful prose. Yes, there is still some good in the plotting, but you have to dig so, so deep to find it it.
Let’s start with the epigrams – those little quotes and snippets of history that pop up at the start of every chapter. I love this literary technique. The way it brings life to a setting, eases you into each new scene, and lets the author get some killer quotes across without having to work them into general dialogue. They’ve been one of the defining traits of Dune right from the very beginning. In previous books they’ve teased at the immense worldbuilding or illuminated characters for whom we don’t get a direct PoV. In Children of Dune, even the epigrams fall apart. They’re often quite lengthy, and a lot of them hit similar beats. I don’t know what it is about them, but they feel less like in-world text, and more like Herbert directly imparting his political theories to the reader. Some of them are still interesting, but it’s all a bit fourth-wall breaking. When i read a book, i don’t want a direct conversation with the author. I’d much prefer an attempt to disguise opinions as those of the characters.
Speaking of characters, this book introduces us to Leto II and Ghanima, the twin children of Paul and Chani. They are pre-born, meaning they have the memories of all their ancestors. At the time of the story, they are also nine years old. This leads to some of the same issues that Alia faced in previous books, but here they are dialled up to eleven. Alia had narrative issues with regard to being a sexually active child, but somehow Herbert manages to make things even weirder. In one of Leto’s first conversations with his grandmother Jessica, he casually mentions how he has the memory of what it is like to be intimate with her. Then he and his sister discuss the possibility of an incestuous relationship to strengthen their family line. It’s just bizarre, not helped by the fact that no one in this book speaks in any way like a real person. Reading the dialogue of these people, whether they are nobles, Fremen, or children, just feels like eavesdropping on a philosophy lecture. Even leaving aside questionable abilities like Ghanima’s power to erase her own memory when it becomes convenient, nobody in this book ever feels like they might be a real person. Obviously, they are fictional, but there’s no authenticity to their actions and behaviour. It’s not even choices in relation to the plot (which I would happily accept), it’s all thematic and in service to Herbert’s philosophies.
If you can look past the presentation, there is some good here. The thematic elements I just mentioned? Well those are actually quite interesting. In many ways, Children of Dune marks the passing of the old order. We have the dying Fremen, the potential end of the Atreides line, and the last of the Corrinos. It feels like the end of an era, and if Herbert could have strung these elements together a little differently, I could well have enjoyed this book a whole lot more than I actually did.
In short, Children of Dune is an incredibly frustrating muddle of missed opportunities. Yet somehow – somehow – things only get weirder from here.