Dune Messiah centers on Paul Atreides/Muad'Dib's role as Kwisatz Haderach, the Bene Gesserit identity bestowed on him at birth and identifying him as the culmination of centuries of selective breeding in the attempt to create a superbeing of unequaled insight and power. However, as the story unfolds on the barren Arrakis, it becomes less and less certain whether the Kwisatz Haderach is indeed Muad'Dib, or his infinitely talented and capable sister Alia who lived in a constant spice-induced state within her mother's womb. Family and political intrigue define the plot, while thematically the novel is an investigation of the nature of messianic power and responsibility.
Less grandiose or deep than its predecessor, Dune Messiah is nevertheless a rare example of a good sequel. It is a genuine continuation of themes and ideas begun in Dune, while not simply serving as a rehash of the plot. The characters have matured but are recognizable, and the universe has changed as we might expect following the cataclysmic upheaval described in the first book. Herbert also avoids the temptation to recycle old themes and imagery, writing a dependent work that is still striking in its own right.
Blindness is a recurrent image in this second installment. By the novel's end Paul has stopped having visions altogether leaving him effectively blind; rather than burden the community, he wanders alone into the desert according to Fremen tradition. The loss of sight is indicative of the transience of religious fervor centered on an individual mortal, though the human proclivity to extend devotion beyond prudence surfaces when it becomes clear Paul's son Leto is destined to supplant his father as messiah of the Fremen, and possibly as Kwisatz Haderach.
Herbert's prose style remains strong and incisive, and his narrative control is impeccable. While you could read Dune by itself, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune elaborate on many themes and offer a fuller understanding of Herbert's vision. Besides that, Dune Messiah is a sci-fi adventure to rival any other in excitement and tension. There are a lot of sequels in the world and most of them are bad; this is one of the good ones.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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