I keep going back and forth on this rating. Reading this series has been a truly weird experience. The first book is a straight up classic that I enjoy reading, despite some issues with it being dated and gross in places. I will read it again! I will see the movie. The second two books I appreciated on an intellectual level but they did not engage me emotionally at all. I was very much dreading the rest of the series after reading those books. And then . . . this book. I don’t even really know what to say about it? In general, my reaction is just sort of . . . what the fuck? But not in a bad way, mostly?
So, the title of this review may have given it away, but our main character is Leto Atreides II, the son of Paul and Chani, and he’s 3,500 years old at this point, and is basically God Emperor of the universe. He’s also transformed physically, and is still transforming, into a sandworm of Dune, though he still retains a human face and arms (his feet are vestigial “flippers” . . . gag). (I’m still not clear on why this is happening, or even why he chose to merge with the whatever they’re called at the end of the last book, but whatever, I’m going with it.) He is full on a tyrant. Like, he acknowledges this to everyone, out loud. He is all-knowing, and prophetic, and he has the entirety of human history in his mind. And he has some overarching bullshit plan that he likes to vaguely hint at while proselytizing to anyone who will listen.
So the thing about this book is that I kind of hated the storyline, and the main character was incredibly unlikable and almost totally unrelatable, but! It did engage me emotionally. I read it pretty fast, all things considered, when I crawled through the previous two. I’m not sure if it was the WTF factor, or the fact that Leto kept making me angry, or that the things that were happening were escalations of fuckery, or all three. There’s also the fact that 3,500 years have passed since we last visited Arrakis so we get to go through the process of discovery again, sort of. It’s still the same basic universe and planet, but things have changed, and it was interesting to see how, and speculate as to why. I also did like several of the secondary characters (although, some of them verge on sharing protagonist credit with Leto).
One of those characters is a clone of Duncan Idaho. I keep thinking we’ve seen the last of this character (I thought he was full on dunzo halfway through book one, and I was so sad, because Jason Momoa is playing him, but don’t worry, Jason, your paychecks are secure forever as long as the movies are a hit). But I think that Herbert was in love with him (despite his very obvious homophobia) and kept bringing him back. Just like Leto does in this book, and in the 3,500 years leading up to it. There have been a succession of Duncan Idaho clones, or gholas as they’re called in this universe. Leto goes through a lot of them, either losing them to old age, or more likely, to betrayal or “treason” as the Duncans grow bitter about their master and turn on him. Basically, Leto has been tormenting Duncan Idaho for thousands of years.
There’s a lot of politicking with the Bene Gesserit and the dirty Tleixaxu, as per usual, but also introduced here is a rebellion led by Leto’s sister Ghanima’s descendant, Siona. Cool thing to know about Siona: She’s the result of Leto’s “breeding program.” Breeding for what, who knows! Oh, and did I say cool? What I meant is fuck you, Leto. Apparently one of Leto’s favorite things to do in order to control a population (aside from making them all complacent with peace and feudal level technology) is to foster rebellion and then disarm it by bringing the leaders to his side. He did this with Siona’s father, Moneo, who is also a POV character.
I almost two starred this because Leto will not shut up, and half of what he says is worth thinking about and he had some points, but then the other half is absolute nonsense. Like his gender essentialist thoughts about why it’s the best to have an all female army, and his homophobic thoughts about how armies make you gay if you’re a dude, and homosexuals are bad! There were strong hints of Herbert’s homophobia in book one, what with making the main villain being a gay pedophile, but here it’s all out in the open. Leto spouts all his theories with a surety that is aggravating. The problem here is that if this type of character did exist in real life (one who could see all of history and desires to shepherd humanity away from destruction), he would not hold a lot of these opinions. A lot of the opinions don’t even make sense! Literally, did not know what he was saying. Herbert was not the best at making his meaning clear, so the result is garbled. And yet, I did not stop reading. It grabbed me.
The thing is, I see what Herbert was going for (after having read the Dune wiki to make sure), and I admit some of the themes he was working with here are interesting. Leto gives up his humanity because he wants to make it so that no single threat can every destroy the entirety of humanity, and this is the only way that his prescience tells him he can do that. Also, there’s a lot of stuff in here about the conflicting desires and needs of humans. We want peace, but we flourish under adversity. This is partly how Leto has been Emperor for so long, because he understands this. The story he used to convey this was such weird nonsense, though. I can’t emphasize that enough. Leto sucks.
Last thoughts. Only Frank Herbert could have turned this:
[2.5 stars, rounded up because what even??]