Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shepherd492 reviews: Dune Messiah

Dune Messiah (Frank Herbert)

Dune Messiah takes place twelve years after the events of Dune. Paul has expanded his reach throughout the universe through a Jihad. The Reverend Mother, and two companions set up a conspiracy to eliminate Paul. The conspiracy involves the reincarnated Duncan Idaho, Paul's former mentor. Cloning, reincarnation, etc. are very risky plot devices, used too often or improperly and they remove the sense of danger and tension from a work- if someone dies they can easily be brought back. Fortunately Dune's cloning has some very strict rules, and the development of Duncan's character and the interaction between Paul and the ghola are handled very well. Paul seems to be attached or mystified by this ghola of Duncan, keeping him close at hand even when he has pieced together that Duncan is meant to serve as the catalyst for his destruction. The conspiracy overall is somewhat unimportant as far as the story is concerned. It is covered often early in the book, but later it is discussed less and less frequently. The conspiracy does lend itself to reinforcing the very precarious position Paul's empire is in. Even though he controls so many worlds, his grasp on them is slipping with each passing day, and many factions are opposed to his meteoric rise.

The main story here is Paul's transformation from kind hearted noble to an unwilling dictator of sorts. His oracle abilities get alot of mention in this book, these powers somewhat constrict him onto preset path in life, and in fact much of the book concerns him trying to avoid stepping off the path and screwing with the future he has envisioned. Some background information is divulged concerning the composition of his empire andn their means of controlling the population, expanding territories, etc. but otherwise the twelve years between Dune and Messiah are largely untouched. The plot is very good, even if it doesn't really on an overabundance of action or imaginative concepts and encounters like the first one did. It has a handful thrilling moments, a blind Paul is able to see through his son's eyes to defeat one of the conspirators, being the primary example,  but mostly the air of inevitablity and dread is enough to make the plot satisfying.

The most memorable aspect of Messiah is probably the development of Paul's character. Not only has he become a slave to fate, he has also become a dictator far surpassing Hitler in terms of bloodshed. In a passage from the book, Paul laments that Hitler killed a few million people, while he is responsible for the deaths of many many more. This was an incredibly poignant line and really served to show how badly his reign has gone. He was unable to stop the Jihad he so dreaded in book one, and as a result the universe has suffered. He is shackled to fate, only able to find a path that prevents his children from being killed, and losing his kingdom, wife, and status in the process. His decisions to conform to a certain path, and sacrifice everything, were incredibly brave, but also somewhat pitiful in a way. It's hard to accept that Paul could'nt have found another way that kept his life intact. Developing this complex character and shattering the typical hero story takes up quite a bit of space in the novel, and returning characters like Stilgar and Alia don't get enough screen time or development as a result.

Duncan is a rather interesting character though. He begins the novel as Hayt, a clone grown from Duncan's flesh, but with different memories and personality- his true personality is buried deep inside him. He is still loyal to Paul and confides his unwilling role in the assassination plot to him. He grasps with his new identity  and status throughout the book, eventually becoming Duncan again. The villains are somewhat dull, interesting character concepts but not really brought to life in the same way as Duncan and Paul.

While it lacks the sense of wonder of the original Dune, no trekking through the desert or new technology here, Messiah is still planned very meticulously in all aspects. Everything from Paul's empire, to religion, to newly introduced characters such as flesh dancers or Space Guild navigators, are added flawlessly into the work, creating a more detailed world. Religion plays a prominent role in this novel too, and Paul's methods of using it to enslave and control the people are precisely described as well. Overall the book is certainly a fantastic work of imagination, fully rendered and highly enjoyable in terms of creating a consistent, life like universe rife with political intrigue. There aren't many flaws in the writing, but sometimes dialogue can seem a bit stilted, and some of the implications and allusions were hard to follow.

Darker but more profound than its predecessor, Dune Messiah offers a brillant take on main character Paul, and a universe that is just as engaging as it was the first time around. Less interesting villains, and sparse action sequences, along with a diminished sense of wonder, cause it to be inferior to the the original, but it's a fantastic book nonetheless.

Final Score

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