Children of Dune (Frank Herbert)
Children of Dune takes place approximately nine years after the events of Dune Messiah. Alia has become possessed by one of her ancestors-namely Duke Vladimir Harkonnen, the antagonist from the first novel. Jessica arrives on Arrakis to investigate her daughter, and her grandchildren Leto and Ghanima. On Salusa Secundus, the deposed Emperor's daughter (Wensicia) and her son (Farad'n) plot the murder of Leto and Ghanima. Meanwhile, the Preacher (Paul) has returned from his exodus in the desert and is preaching in the small communities across Arrakis about the failures of Alia's government. The plot unravels very slowly, as much of the first two hundred and fifty pages involves various characters plotting and counter plotting against one another. This primarily involves Alia and Jessica, but Duncan Idaho, the twins, and Wensicia play an important role as well. Unfortunately, the plot is a bit too slow for the first half of the book, with several chapters consisting of nothing but monologues, contemplation, and plotting, and very little action or execution. The sequence where Jessica trains Farad'n in the ways of the Bene Gesserit leaves much to be desired, and Leto's discovery of Jacurutu was also somewhat boring.
Things pick up quite a bit for the last one hundred and fifty pages, when Leto's plan turns out to be quite unexpected, and actually pretty awesome. Some great confrontations between Leto and Alia, the conclusion of Paul's story, and a strong finale serve as an ample reward for what was (to that point) a tedious and boring read.
Characterization is a serious flaw here. Where Dune/Messiah had a relateable character in Paul and (to a lesser degree) Jessica, Children of Dune doesn't really have that. The twins are quite detached for most of the book, and basically impossible to identify with or care for. The one time Ghanima's character shines is when she must implant the false memory of Leto's death in her mind. Leto, on the other hand, is a more relatable character towards the end of the book. The fate of humanity is self-imposed on his shoulders towards the end of the novel, and not only does it echo the sacrifice of Paul in Messiah, but it also serves to give Leto's single minded determination throughout the novel a proper context.
Jessica isn't all that interesting here, she seems to have severed all emotional ties with Alia, and as a result the power struggle loses some of its drama. Her eventual protege, Farad'n, starts off as somewhat whiny and self centered, but develops into an adequate character by the end of the novel, mostly through his interaction with Jessica. Alia's possession is interesting, but not explored enough, her final scene makes up for her otherwise undeveloped character in this novel. Duncan might be the most interesting character, forced to deal with his wife's downfall and possession, he decides to remain true to House Atreides ideals, manipulating the situation to incite rebellion against the monster that Alia has become. Sacrifice is a major theme in this novel, and most of the characters perform atleast one sacrificial action over the course of the novel. Unfortunately, the sacrifice is somewhat dampened by the lack of connection between the characters and the reader.
This book is actually written very well, better than the two previous novels in the series. Its triumph comes mostly through the masterful use of subtlety present throughout the novel. This book will only occasionally fill in the blanks for you, often requiring you to fill in blanks and make assumptions on your own. This writing style is great for forcing you to think, and I appreciated it even if it made re-reading scenes vital in some areas. This book also features more philosophical musings that cover many of the same topics of the first two books such as religion, government, and humanity. These concepts are presented in a more digestible, less intrusive fashion then they were throughout much of the first two books, and they greatly enhanced the reading for me. Descriptions are also handled very adeptly, but the few action scenes presented fall flat as far as tension and excitement is concerned. Overall, the writing here is impressive, and greatly enhances a novel that has its fair share of faults in the character and plot areas.
A beautiful writing style isn't enough to make up for the largely poor characterization and uneven plot. Definitely a solid work, but the weakest of the original trilogy of Dune novels.