Dune Messiah (1969) by Frank Herbert

‘The flesh surrenders itself, he thought. Eternity takes back its own. Our bodies stirred these waters briefly, danced with a certain intoxication before the love of life and self, dealt with a few strange ideas, then submitted to the instruments of Time. What can we say of this? I occurred. I am not . . . yet, I occurred.’

I recently read and reviewed Frank Herbert’s Dune. It was my second time to read it and the reread confirmed my opinion that Dune is a masterpiece. I believe it can stand on its own as a single story, a one-and-done work of incredible imagination. But like most readers of Dune, I wanted more. Imagine trying to write a sequel to such a book. How do you follow up a story like Dune? Where do you go next?

Art by Sean Francis O’Connell, 2017 Hodder & Stoughton edition

Publisher’s Synopsis

Twelve years after his victory over House Harkonnen, Paul Atreides rules as emperor from the desert planet Arrakis – but his victory has had profound consequences. War has been brought to the entire known universe, and billions have already perished. Despite having become the most powerful emperor known to history, Paul is powerless to bring an end to the fighting.

While former allies conspire to dethrone Paul and even his own consort acts against him, Paul accepts a gift from the Tleilaxu, a guild of genetic manipulators, hoping to find a single spark of peace and friendship amidst the betrayal and chaos. But this act undermines Paul’s support from the Fremen, his own people. The Fremen are the true source of Paul’s power; losing them is the one thing that could truly topple his empire.

As matters escalate, Paul will be forced to chose between his throne, his wife, his people and his future – and the future of the entire universe.

Bruce Pennington’s art for the 1972 New English Library edition

My Thoughts (*)possible spoilers when you see this sign

Dune Messiah is not as epic as Dune. It’s a notably different book to its lauded predecessor, but I think this is a good thing. Instead of the fresh and exciting journey of a young man almost stumbling upon his–pre-destined–destiny, we are dropped into the cold, hard reality of a leader and ruler attempting to maintain his rule in the midst of constant challenges. Paul must manage his empire as well as his home, and this second book spends a lot more time chronicling Paul’s day-to-day life on Arrakis.

‘We’ve dabbled in various pure essences,’ Scytale said. ‘Pure good and pure evil. A pure villain who delights only in creating pain and terror can be quite educational.’

In a recurrence of a plot device from the first book, we quickly discover there is a conspiracy against the Atreides family. Powerful figures are again working towards ending Paul’s rule, and possibly his life. A major part of this conspiracy are the Bene Tleilax, a guild of genetic engineers who feature much more prominently in Dune Messiah. In a gesture of diplomacy, Paul accepts a gift from one of the Tleilaxu, but fears this ‘gift’ may have been designed to work against him. (*) The gift is in fact a clone of Duncan Idaho, the loyal sword-master of House Atreides who met an untimely end in the first book. He tells Paul his name is now “Hayt.”

As the story moves forward, a fascinating tete-a-tete develops between Hayt and Paul. I got drawn into their psychological battle of words and really enjoyed the way Herbert used this plot device. I could feel the manipulation of emotions and imagine how challenging Paul must have felt these interactions to be. (*) I’m hoping the character of Hayt will feature more in future books in the Dune Universe.

Cover art by Jack Gaughan from the 1969 first edition, published by Putnam

To summarize, Dune Messiah is very, very good, considering it is the sequel to one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. I don’t use the word “masterpiece” lightly, but Frank Herbert’s Dune is a masterpiece in my opinion. Herbert must have been tempted to follow it with more of the same, but instead he went in a different direction making the book more refreshing because of this bold choice. I’m reminded of The Empire Strikes Back after the original Star Wars movie.

After briefly scanning through some reviews, it’s clear to see that Dune Messiah splits readers down the middle. There are those that love it and quite a few who detest it. It took me a little while to get into it, but when I did I really enjoyed the story. I would give it 4 stars compared to Dune, which I gave 5 stars.

Dune Messiah is not another Dune. It’s a darker, more focused story which looks deeply into what it might mean to be “the chosen one” and how that burden could affect someone. It asks questions on what it takes to rule an empire as well as what is necessary to maintain that rule. It’s also a fascinating character study about family, friends, love and loyalty.


Frank Herbert, pictured in Santa Rosa, California

A Fascinating Interview by Professor Willis E. McNelly

Professor Willis E. McNelly of California State College, Fullerton, recorded and typed an interview that he made with Frank Herbert and his wife Beverly Herbert, on 3 February 1969. (The original text is 46 pages but the 32nd page is missing.) Please find the interview here: http://www.sinanvural.com/seksek/inien/tvd/tvd2.htm

A couple of quotes which stood out for me from this interview:

“What if I had an entire planet that was a desert? During my studies of deserts, of course, and previous studies of religions, we all know that many religions began in a desert atmosphere, so I decided to put the two together because I don’t think that any one story should have any one thread. I build on a layer technique, and of course putting in religion and religious ideas you can play one against the other.”- Frank Herbert

And this one:

“One of the threads in the story is to trace a possible way a messiah is created in our society, and I hope I was successful in making it believable. Here we have the entire process, or at least the large and some of the subtle elements of the construction of this, both from the individual standpoint, and from the way society demands this of you. It’s the references in there, you know, that the man must recognize the myth he is living in, because the creation of an avatar is a mythmaking process. We’ve done it in our…in recent times. Look at what’s happening to John F. Kennedy.”- Frank Herbert

And finally, this one:

“You know, I’ve always been amazed by the statement or by the label of psychological warfare. There can be no such thing as psychological warfare…if you develop a psychological weapon sufficiently that it is destructive to any potential enemy, it will destroy you with the enemy.”- Frank Herbert


19 thoughts on “Dune Messiah (1969) by Frank Herbert

  1. I always thought of Messiah as just a fourth book of Dune after ‚The Prophet‘. There are times when I even like it better than Dune, because of the fascinating deconstruction of Paul. Quite similar to „pre-Paul“ Liet-Kynes in the last sentences of the chapter where he dies. Does that make sense at all?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I enjoyed the deconstruction of Paul and the tighter focus on a close group of characters. The Liet-Kynes death is a fascinating part of the first book. Herbert talked about it in the interview I linked at the bottom of the review. Definitely worth a look if you have time🙂
      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting review – and thanks for the link to the interview! I’ve read Messiah a long time ago, and felt then that it was a much more bitter, colder book – one where you are stripped of your delusions, one by one, and must face what is left. I really need to re-read Dune sequence!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It’s my first time to read it and I was aware of the split in positive & negative reviews for Messiah. So I was delighted by how much I enjoyed it. It could never be another Dune. I appreciated the direction Herbert took it in. As you say, colder and bitter, like being slapped in the face by reality. Oh no, this is what being a ruler actually means and entails.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, if you enjoyed Messiah this much, you’ll like the rest of the Dune Chronicles. So you have something to look forward to 😀

    I just re-read the whole Chronicles a couple of years ago and it became evident to me that the later books were more in line with the style and ability of Herberts previous non-Dune books. I think Dune stands head and shoulders above his other works but that the Chronicles stand taller than his other works. Have you read much other Herbert or is this your entrance into his writing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • No, I haven’t read anything else by Herbert. It was wonderful to reread Dune as I enjoyed it more than the first time I read it some years ago. Yes, Dune does feel like one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” feats of imagination. How could anyone reach such heights again?

      I do look forward to continuing with the series. I know how highly Bart rates it and it has been very interesting to follow his progress with his rereads. I’ve been told that the quality drops the further along the books go but I’m still optimistic and prepared for more spice! Have you read any of his other books?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have reread Dune I don’t know how many times, but probably only reread Messiah and Children a few times. I remember really liking Messiah because it focuses on characters – Paul dealing with his family, the Paul/Hayt dynamic. Really enjoyed it!

    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yes, I enjoyed the tighter focus on Paul and his closest companions in Messiah. Dune is a fantastic book, isn’t it! You must really like it to have read it so many times. I’m looking forward to reading Children of Dune in the near future.

      Thanks for commenting:-)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read Dune for the very first time a couple of months ago in 2020 and I couldn’t agree more. Dune is a masterpiece. The scope, the characters, the themes, the settings, the chosen one trope. Everything was beautifully executed! I haven’t seen the old live-action movie adaptation yet but I plan to when we finally get a release date for Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming two-part movie adaptation. And being a HUGE fan of this man, I have confidence that his take on this classic will blow our minds!

    As for this sequel, I told myself that I’d keep Dune as a stand-alone for the time being and continue with the rest of the series after the movies so I could at least indulge the movies without any sequel knowledge! But I’m glad to read your thoughts on this one though. This being darker and digging deeper into the chosen one trope has me really intrigued. Thanks for sharing! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m also excited about Villeneuve’s adaptation. Two parts as well, now that is ambitious and shows the confidence the studio has in him.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the novel. As you said, there’s so much in it. There is a really good audiobook version that uses different actors and some atmospheric music that I also recommend. I think I’m going to listen to it once-a-year from now on, as I drive to work and back.
      Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved Dune, as well, but never read beyond it. And it’s been decades since I read it, so I wonder if you think it’d be better to reread that before reading this one? Or do you think this might be easy to pick up even with memory of the first somewhat foggy?

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you’ve read Dune then there’s no need to re-read it before Messiah, in my opinion. Messiah is set 12 years after the end of Dune, so it doesn’t continue directly, if you know what I mean. It’s a much shorter book, too. It really focuses on the characters and doesn’t have a lot of action. So, if you are interested in a character study of Paul and his closest companions, give it a try:-)
      Thanks for your comment!


  7. Pingback: Top Reads of 2020 | Who's Dreaming Who

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