the Little Red Reviewer

Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert

Posted on: May 31, 2014

I’m working to get through all the Dune books this year. Since I know the first book by heart, I started with Dune Messiah.


children-of-dune-frank-herbet-3Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert

published in 1976

where I got it: have owned forever. My paperback is falling apart. Heh heh, the cover art says “The Climax of the Dune Trilogy“.












Children of Dune is the third book in Frank Herberts Dune saga. Throughout Dune and Dune Messiah, we saw a build up of court politics, religious fervor,  ythology, and genetic manipulation. All of this and more comes to a boiling point in Children of Dune. This review has taken me about a week to write. I’ve some history with this series, I came to it at a very impressionable age and it was my biggest step towards my love of science fiction. So it is very hard for me to distill fifteen years of experiencing this particular novel into a thousand words.

It’s been less than ten years since a blinded Paul Muad-Dib walked into the desert without water or stillsuit.  His sister Alia has sat as regent while the Empire waits for his nine year old twin children, Leto II and Ghanima to come of age. Arrakis has become the capitol of the Empire, and modernity has come to Arrakeen. Young Fremen no longer learn stillsuit discipline, they have no use for the desert traditions of their parents. Liet Kynes’ 50 generation plan is speedily coming to fruition – the desert is greening. Homes are built without strict water seals, grasses are planted to hold the shifting dunes in place, trees are planted anywhere and everywhere. The planet is changing an the traditional tribes are  horrified.


Ecological changes aside, Alia is no normal regent, and her niece and nephew are not normal children. Their dying mother opted for a spice overdose to save the lives of her children, and Leto II and Ghanima came to consciousness while still in the womb.  Steeped in the spice for their entire life, neither child is a singular being, but instead the multitude of all the memories, all the lives of their descendents who live in the background of their consciousness. Not multiple personalities per se, but if they let their guard down, they could be possessed by the powerful voices within.  Alia, Leto, and Ghanima all yearn for the prescience that Paul experienced, but to do so they would have to risk the spice trance that would only empower their other memories. Alia, already teetering on the edge of possession can’t risk allowing the voices in the head to become any louder.


My heart breaks for Alia her every time I read this book. Demonized as a child, seen as an abomination for something she had no control over, Alia has no one to turn to, no one she can talk to. Everywhere she turns she is judged and looked down upon. Everywhere that is, but her inner voices. And one voice is so soothing, so seductive. One voice promises to quiet all the other warring voices, if only she takes his very helpful advice from time to time.

The Lady Jessica returns to Dune, ostensibly to visit her grandchildren, but the Bene Gesserit need confirmation that Alia has become a possessed abomination, and there the huge question mark of what exactly are Ghanima and Leto? They are pre-born no doubt, but if they have avoided abomination, how did they do it? If their personalities are stable, how might they best use these perfect genetics that are the culmination of the Bene Gesserit breeding program?  There is talk of breeding Ghanima and Leto together, as the old Pharoahs did, and the children just laugh at this idea.


Meanwhile, a blind preacher has come out of the desert, preaching the old ways, preaching against Paul Muad-Dib’s jihad. Some of the Fremen laugh at him, but more and more are listening to him.  This desiccated man, could he be Paul. But how can that be? Paul walked into the desert to die.   On that line of questioning, how does a messiah wipe themselves from the memory of humanity?


It’s a bit funny when I think about it, how fast Paul’s religion took over the Empire. It’s been what, fifteen years since he became Emperor?  Humanity has become obsessed with his religion, or at least how it’s been interpreted (and misinterpreted) by the Fremen and by Alia’s priests.  As much as everyone hopes the Preacher is Paul, miraculously returned from the desert, everyone also hopes he isn’t. It be mighty inconvenient for the messiah to return and tell them everything they are doing wrong, wouldn’t it?


Whoever controls the spice controls the Empire. The greening of the desert is putting spice production at risk, and the secret that isn’t a secret is that if you disrupt the livelihood of the sandworms and sandtrout, spice production could come to an end.  Leto and Ghanima know the monster that lurks in Alia’s psyche, and they  need to ensure there is an Empire around for them to inherit.  They plan they come up with requires Ghanima to hypnotize herself into believing Leto has been killed, and Leto in turn destroys his own humanity.  It is the only way to save humanity, even though it will feel like punishment every step of the way.


And there is so much happening in Children of Dune that I haven’t even touched on.  A lesser author would have written a 900 page doorstopper, whereas Herbert crams all of this and more into a 400 page novel.  The prose can be dense, but it’s all muscle.


Herbert has so much coming together towards critical mass in Children of Dune that at times it is mindboggling. Intermixed with courtly politics and manipulation is a commentary on religious fanaticism, how governments keep societies placid and under control, a discussion of our fears of long term planning vs our obsession with it, and the idea that a known future becomes one you are fatally trapped within.  Paul’s prescience allowed him to control the Empire, because he knew what was going to happen next. But because he knew what was going to happen, he became trapped in that path.  Leto believes he can save humanity from the dangerous manipulation of the Bene Gesserit and other ruling families, and our own stupidity and greed.  For so long the Empire has preached peace and stability.  If that’s what humanity wants, that’s what Leto will give them.  He’s found a way, and he’s found a balance.


As was the case in the first two books, the dialog absolutely shines. Herbert does as much with what’s verbally spoken as what isn’t.  Between the lines of he said and she said are gestures, dry humor, sarcasm, and fear and terror. The story glows on characterization alone.  On the other hand, exposition isn’t Herbert’s strong point. Near the end of the novel, when Leto is going through his indescribable transformation, the prose is so surreally metaphysical that at times I had no idea what was going on.  A ending that was tough to slog through aside, Children of Dune continues to be my favorite in the series.  This was originally the end of the series, and plenty of readers choose to stop here.


Children of Dune is the story of the delicate balance at work on Dune, and as I watch the Atreides family fight to keep their balance, I realized I was watching a microcosm of the entire Empire.


While working on this review, two scenes from the very beginning of the first Dune book stood out for me, and I wonder if others have had a similar experience or made these connections:  When Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim approaches Paul with “the box”, there is the famous line “they tried and died”.  Paul became what the Bene Gesserit wanted, and at the end, he walked into the desert to die.  At the end of Children of Dune, Leto does something to extend his life, but in a way it also kills him.  Is this just the Bene Gesserit quote proving itself?  There is also the scene when the Atreides family first lands on Arrakis, they see trees have been planted in the plaza. The trees are counted by how many person’s worth of water they take: twenty date palms require the water to keep ten men alive. At the beginning of Children of Dune, trees are everywhere on Dune. In a way, those trees only exist because Paul Muad-Dib’s jihad claimed lives.



15 Responses to "Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert"

This is my favourite of all the sequels, almost as good as the original. Mostly for the characterisation that you go into above. Alia is the tragedy here and it’s no wonder she turns out the way she does.

There’s a fantastic line in the mini series in which Alia says to her mother: “I love you and hate you. I can never forgive you” which really demonstrates the pain she has suffered and whom we should rightly be blaming.

Excellent review 🙂


arrggg, Jessica. I love her and hate her too. She turned one child into the Kwisatz Haderach, and then abandoned the other child. Herbert always seems to be pushing Jessica into the background, she ends up turning into a non-entity for me, in spite of how she wrecks Alia’s life and what she does with Farad’n.

ahhh, the miniseries. Parts of it are soooo good! it’s been like five years since the last time I saw it. I really need to bump it up to the top of my Netflix list, since Messiah and Children are now so fresh in my mind. Reading Children, it was fun to run into the lines that are used verbatim in the miniseries.


And of course it launched the career of James McAvoy 🙂


Who I am still nursing a mad crush on. 😉


Wonderful review, you captured all my super fan has been unable to express all these years since picking up and gorging on the series. Love finding another “dune girl” out there who appreciates the complexity and ability to keep all the stands of plot in play that Herbert was able to do.


Years ago I met a ton of Duneheads on an online forum that was themed after the Dune series. There were plenty of women on the forum, I stayed in touch with folks for a long time after.

going through your blog, it’s nice for me to find another “Culture girl” out there! 🙂 speaking of complexity….


I completely agree with you on Alia! Her story is so tragic and quite believable! Frank Herbert was a genius. Very good take on this book and as always a great review!


Makes me wish her story was expanded on more, you know?


Agreed! She is such a compelling character and was basically abandoned by those she needed most.


Really enjoy this book — my favorite little grace note is when Leto mentally follows the pilgrimage to Canterbury that his ancestors followed on old, forgotten Earth. Herbert was great about very allusive Earth references like that (until the awful Chapterhouse Dune).


Amazing to think that Leto and Ghanima’s memories go back that far. they’ll say something about old Earth, and everyone else is like “I have no idea what you’re talking about”. This story is so far in the future, that no one even *remembers* Earth. That’s epic, all on it’s own!


Yes, it say “the conclusion of the trilogy” and so it was meant to be, but Herbert couldn’t turn down the money the publisher offered for one more, and then another… It should have stopped here.


The sextet reads more like two connected trilogies rather than one 6 book saga. I remember reading somewhere that he was easily convinced to write more in the series because his wife was very ill, and they needed the money. Not sure if there is any truth to that.


I’ve heard that too, but have never heard it confirmed by Herbert or his son, so who knows?


Great review, thanks. I felt sorry for Alia too, but the main question for me: was the Baron really evil? IMO: no.
Decadent? Yes.
Corrupt, cruel and twisted? Without doubt.
Opportunistic? Absolutely.

But after all, he tried to save his wealth and improve the standing of his house; the very same that old Leto did by accepting the Emperor’s offer. And through Alia, it was his chance to avenge his, and his heirs’ defeat.

Because, for a moment, let’s look away from the events that followed this book, and how the Golden Path served humanity’s ends.
Speaking strictly of the past 15 years, after Paul seized the throne, what was the baron about to topple? The most brutal, cruel and insidious, corrupt regime of House Atreides. Doing all this, while fulfilling the kanly against his enemy.

One thing though: I completely lost at the part, when Jessica turned Farad’n to a Bene Gesserit eventually. What was that secret information that the sardaukar officer tried to make unspoken?


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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