Dune concluded with Paul Atreides established as the new emperor of the known universe. He is now married to the previous emperor’s daughter, the Princess Irulan, but his true love is Chani, the girl he fell in love with when he lived in the desert with the Fremen. Chani, due to politics, is forced to play the role of concubine. Paul is a reluctant emperor, and a reluctant messiah, for he has now become the object of religious devotion. Endowed with powers of prescience due to the planet’s “spice melange,” Paul is continually cursed visions of a jihad in his name, stretching out across the universe. And no matter what course of action he takes, whether he stays or runs, the jihad is always there. In fact, it has already begun, and Paul is powerless to prevent it.
The chief focus of Dune Messiah is Paul’s struggle against several enemies who have conspired to destroy him. Frank Herbert’s mythology is so intricate that you can never tell from what angle the attack will come. The first suspect is in the form of his old friend Duncan Idaho, who had been slain but is now resurrected as a “ghola” – essentially a whole new person in Idaho’s skin, containing whispers of the previous man. But how do you attack a man who can see into the future? With the aid of a “steersman” – a creature with prescience, ordinarily used to steer starships safely through the void, because seeing the future means that you can avoid disaster. Paul is immersed in a battle of wits involving not only the ordinary skills of cunning, but prescience versus prescience. You might imagine it would be easy for the reader to get lost in such a complex tapestry, but the book is immensely readable. To cap it all, Herbert comes up with a genuinely unpredicatable and satisfying twist in the tail.
As with reading the first volume, I was in awe of Herbert’s mythmaking ability. I had the sense that I was only being shown a tiny portion of a whole universe, entirely imaginary, but so well thought out as to be almost tangible. Dune Messiah is only half the size of Dune, but is a worthy sequel. I’m really looking forward to the next volume, Children of Dune.