It has been probably over 30 years since I last read Children of Dune and I did not remember it being this complex or political. Of the first 3 books in the series, it is the one that is most focused on politics (yes, even more than Dune). The intrigues between Jessica and Duncan, between Alia and the twins, between the Preacher and Alia, basically everyone is scheming against everyone else. The religious subtext takes a backseat, with one notable exception, to the plotting of all these important characters. The one place where religion is explored a bit is with Alia.
Her mother, Jessica, took the water of life while she was pregnant with Alia and so she was born with all the knowledge of her ancestors, essentially a reverend mother of the Bene Gesserit from before she was born. She succumbs to the voices of her ancestors, most notably her grandfather and chief enemy of the Atreides, the Baron Harkonnen. What I found interesting is how Herbert makes it very clear that Alia is a tragic character. Once Paul dies and her mother leaves, she feels lost and alone, and that is the point where she gives in and listens to the voices in her head. Even at her death, Herbert states explicitly, that we were supposed to pity her.
It is fascinating to contrast Alia with the twins, Leto and Ghanima, who were also pre-born due to the water of life but they had each other for support and were able to resist falling into becoming an Abomination, as their Aunt did. The strength they were able to draw from each other, and from the memories of their parents that resided within them, allowed them to use the memories of the past to further their goals and not to slip into madness.
I really do hope this book is adapted for the screen as it has some incredible action sequences but is ultimately about the birth of a superhero or, perhaps more appropriately, a God. By the end of the novel, Paul has been supersaturated with the spice melange, used it to focus the voices of his ancestors so that there are only a few that are able to speak to him, and used their knowledge and his own foresight to define what he calls the Golden Path. It is long range planning in the extreme, as he will be guiding the development of humanity towards a singular goal with the hope that the species will continue to grow and evolve. The way he will achieve this is by having the sandtrout cover his body, merge with his flesh, which had been supersaturated with spice and become super strong, super fast and basically immortal. That sequence, with the sandtrout covering his body and then Leto discovering his new abilities, would look amazing on the big screen.
This book is also filled with incredible insights. The line “All things are known because we want to believe them” or “good government never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern” There is a lot of wisdom in this book, and I would recommend paying attention to the quotes in the chapter headings, as there are many lessons to be learned there. Highest recommendation