||A beautiful character novel, right up
to the last hundred pages, where it became too long, and too short at
the same time.
This is the first
of the Dune novels to use the Bene Gesserit as the main viewpoint.
Always before, they were taken to be people to be avoided, especially in
Children of Dune. Now they are the most sympathetic people. However, it
would be wrong to feel sympathy for them, because they have a plan for
everything. Instead of breeding for their ultimate male counterpart,
which nearly brought them to ruin in the form of Paul Atreides and Leto
the God Emperor (or Tyrant), they now breed to perfect themselves.
One and a half millennia have passed
since the end of God Emperor of Dune. Since then,
the power base that Leto set up has
completely eroded, as was his intent. Arrakis, now Rakis, used to be the center of the
universe; now it is nothing but the basis for a minor religion around
Leto. The Tleilaxu have discovered a way to reproduce melange, and they
do it in enormous quantities, such that the output from Rakis is almost
negligible. The Bene Tleilax are almost as powerful as the Bene Gesserit,
but they don't have the experience, and are easily caught in the
Sisters' traps. These two are the only ones of any importance in the
Dune universe at this time, except for the Honored Matres who have
returned from the Scattering.
Leto's Golden Path sent people out by
the billions into the far reaches of space, scattering the DNA of
humankind well beyond the worlds of his empire or any empire before
that. Now, they have returned, most innocuously, but a large group of
sexual women called Honored Matres want to take control by sexual means.
Everything is threatened by them.
The culture is given to us through a
plot by the Mother Superior of the Bene Gesserit to ... do what? We
don't know until the end, but the idea is so subtle that it is very
difficult to go back and put the pieces together again. They have
resurrected Duncan Idaho many times, but the Tleilaxu keep murdering the
ghola. This last one they must think they have perfected, because he
reaches into his teens.
We meet Mother Superior Taraza, and
Reverend Mothers Lucilla and Odrade, who have been training the ghola.
Most of what we learn about the Sisterhood, the Tleilaxu and Dune come
from these people, whose main goal is control. But unlike the Honored
Matres, they have the patience and the controlled breeding records to
guide them. Not to mention their Other Memories, passed down from woman
to woman through the ages. The plot takes Odrade to Rakis when a young
girl is found who can not only ride the worms, for the first time since
Leto II, but can also command them. We learn a lot about the Rakian
priesthood from those encounters. Odrade takes Sheeana into her custody
and starts to teach her how to become a Reverend Mother. Odrade
confronts a leader of the Tleilaxu, Waff, and follows his leads, learning
a lot about him as well, including how the Tleilaxu are descended from
fundamentalist Islamic extremists, who plan to take over the galaxy by
any means necessary in order to bring the word of God. She learns that
the axtotl tanks they use to create their gholas are really living
wombs. She also learns how the Honored Matres seduced the Tleilaxu
through sexual means, and all they could do.
Lucilla is one of Duncan's teachers,
and a sexual imprinter who was supposed to make Duncan irresistible to
all women. She doesn't get to do her job because of Duncan's only male
teacher, Miles Teg. Teg is a Mentat descended from Leto's sister,
Ghanima. There are a lot of Atreides genes floating around. There is
really little to describe, except to say that Teg is a masterful
tactician, known to every one of his soldiers and former enemies, most
of whom joined him after he defeated them. His charisma, like Paul's
before him, caused everybody to show him loyalty, and him to show
loyalty to everybody under his command.
When the Honored Matres attack the
compound on Gammu (formerly the Harkonnen Geidi Prime), Teg takes
Lucilla and Duncan to safety in an old Harkonnen no-globe, something
that cannot be tracked by the spice-induced prescience (something Leto
tried to reduce dependence upon after he had found Sionna -who could not
be tracked). When they emerged, they had to be delayed enough for Odrade
to find the hidden message from the God Emperor, long gone, asking what
was to become of the Bene Gesserit, and to lure the Honored Matres to
On Teg's side of the story, we learn in
far too many pages how he is still respected by just about all the
natives of Gammu. The hunt scenes are way too long, and don't really
tell us anything new. Instead, I would have appreciated the author
showing us how Teg managed to steal one of the no-ships from the
Scattering, without using his newfound powers of semi-prescience and
blinding speed, which were activated when he was tortured (and which I
liked a lot, like Paul's inner awareness after he was blinded in
Dune Messiah). When he lands
the no-ship on Rakis, I would have like to see at least part of the
battle that "destroyed Rakis". Is the planet physically destroyed, or merely its
ability to sustain life?
For that was Taraza's complicated plan,
with schemes within schemes. The scheme seemed to revolve around a plan
to mate Duncan with Sheeana. But underneath that plan, Taraza has
schemed to bring down the Tleilaxu and especially the Honored Matres,
whose ways will more likely than not bring down human civilization into
barbarism. The Honored Matres would presumably have used the spice and
the ceremonial location of Rakis to cement their hold on human
civilization. Taraza believed Leto's prescient-fixed future still held
humanity because of Rakis, and his tiny awareness deep within each worm
that he spawned when he died as a great worm at the end of the last
book. By destroying Rakis, and making sure it is the Honored Matres who
did it, she makes sure they lose everything they had. Of course, before
he begins the destruction of Rakis, Teg makes sure the Bene Gesserit have
a worm in their possession, guided by Sheeana.
As for Duncan Idaho, he gains power
over the Honored Matres, thanks to the modifications the Tleilaxu made
to his ghola. When one tries to take over his spirit by sexual means, he
instead takes over hers.
The Dune universe is a ruthless one.
The people in every government have no problem getting rid of opposition
by killing people. It is a very interesting universe, but it is the
people who make it interesting. Instead of having automation all over
the place, we have people to fulfill those properties. Mentats make
better computers, human wombs are better than cloning tanks. It looks
like automation from Ix is making some sort of comeback, and I wonder
how that will affect the future.
This book appears to start a new
trilogy, one that was never finished (except in the new sequel trilogy
by Herbert's son and Kevin J. Anderson). I look forward to seeing where
the next book of intrigue leads (the last one written by Frank Herbert).