Not much time has passed since the events in the end of the previous book – measly 1500 years. Considering the fact that God Emperor was an undisputed ruler of the known Universe for exactly 3 times as long as that, this time period is nothing. As such not much has changed – believe it or not. For comparison take modern state of humanity and that of 1500 years ago and think whether it is possible at all for humans to stagnate for this long. I honestly do not believe it.
Anyhow, with the God Emperor finally out of the picture the power-grab games are in full swing with everybody trying to out-power everybody else, the consequences and such minor annoyances as countless lives of insignificant people be damned. To add to the fun, a new and a very dangerous fraction came into being – completely out of the blue and unexpected I might add. Their bid for power shapes the majority of the book. As Leto II never bothered to explain (or even to hint) what the Golden Path is, it is not clear whether these new people are part of the plan, or whether they were as unexpected by the guy as by us readers.
Let me start by saying this book is miles ahead of the previous one in terms of quality and excitement. The main reason for this is that it takes a special kind of talent to write something worse than God Emperor of Dune. That one consisted of pointless philosophical rumblings for about three fourths and teen angst (of the worst kind) in the last quarter – coming from a creature who lived 35 centuries, no less.
This tale starts with cloning of Duncan Idaho. Let me put some things in the perspective. He was initially cloned in book 2 which was kind of cheap trick to bring a dead guy back, but it least that action served a very well explained purpose. In book 4 Leto II kept cloning the guy non-stop during his endless reign (3500 years – in case you forgot). At that point this particular trope has overstayed its welcome. You can imagine that this same act in the beginning of this book felt like a really bad joke – I hoped the madness would stop after Leto II was out of the picture.
To add an insult to the injury, nobody bothers to explain what was so outstanding about the guy to begin with: he was loyal and heroic, but he did not possess any qualities making his presence necessary for literally everybody and their brother in the Universe. Every single action was revolved around his brand new sparkling clone and nobody seems to have any clue why he is so goddamn important.
On the positive side nobody makes long speeches anymore; this is a major improvement. As the book is slightly under 500 pages this means stuff actually happens unlike in the previous book. In fact there were some really fast-paced moments. If only somebody bothered to explain why people did what they did, I would have appreciated them so much more.
On the negative side I could not care less about a single character. Often I found myself wishing all of them would perish at the end. Please do not get me wrong: I did not wish for all of them to die horribly; a gentle kind death would suffice. On one hand we have people returning from unknown parts of the Universe; they are pissed off at everybody and we do not have their POVs which makes it hard to learn their motivations. On the other hand we have the Bene Gesserit who are heartless by definition: killing all of their emotions – love first and foremost - is a part of their training. All of the power players are perfectly fine with completely wiping out the whole planets that had a misfortune of being in their way.
So tell me, which side to root for? Another relevant question: why would I care about anybody?
At least some of Bene Gesserit members have POVs. They face a mortal threat, but it does not stop them any from their own inside power struggle; business as usual. I already said this before, but it is worth repeating again: all of the problems of Bene Gesserit could be easily solved by having them work a regular soul-sucking work we all do from 9 to 5. The real life showed this to be true over and over again.
At this point if you stop and think about it, the story took a completely different turn from the original classic book; the only things in common between them are some of the names. Everybody who is somehow significant is a descendent of Atreides line. Poor Duncan Idaho clone is the only exception. To my complete surprise the story has quite a big sexual themes with at least one very explicit description of a sex act. I am not a prude by any definition, but this looks completely out of place. By the way, do not expect that description I mentioned to be a good piece of erotic literature.
So in conclusion this is light years ahead of the previous book. This one has exciting action scenes, intrigues, and double-crossings. I only wish somebody would bother explaining to me why all of these things were necessary. I give it 3 stars and leave it at this.