Siona Atreides led a group of rebels to the Emperor’s fortress, where they stole some of his secret journals. Discovered, they are chased by the Emperor’s D-wolves and only Siona manages to survive thanks to the sacrifice of one of her fellow rebels.
The latest in a series of Duncan Idaho gholas attempts to kill the Emperor after accusing him of oppressing humanity. His attempt fails and he’s killed. A new ghola is produced and the Imperial majordomo, Moneo Atreides, must manage him and Ix’s new ambassador, Hwi Noree, while trying to uncover every possible new plot against the Emperor.
“God Emperor of Dune” is set over 35 centuries after “Children of Dune” on a planet that now looks very little like the ancient Arrakis. Frank Herbert immediately throws the reader not only in the middle of the action but also in an environment where there’s a forest, a river, and a sea. It’s a weird situation for readers who immersed themselves in the desert environment that marked so deeply the first three novels in the series.
The Empire also changed dramatically after Leto II Atreides took the throne. The Golden Path, as he called the strategy to prevent the end of humanity, seems to have failed with the worst tyranny ever seen in history. The Empire appears to be in a forced peace phase but there are some people working to rebel, even looking for ways to avoid being discovered by the Emperor’s prescience.
Intrigues around imperial power have marked the saga from the beginning but in “God Emperor of Dune” there’s a much broader time perspective. The main theme becomes the future of humanity and the various forms of power are significant as forces influencing human history.
The novel is structured as a set of testimonies about a pivotal era that are examined in the distant future. It’s focused on very few protagonists who are at the center of events crucial for the future of humanity. For this reason, the plot is much more linear than that of “Children of Dune”. It’s a linearity that hides a great content complexity.
The action has never been central to the Dune saga and “God Emperor of Dune” is even more introspective than the previous novels because it consists largely of journals stolen from the Emperor. The consequence is that, through the protagonist, Frank Herbert offers a series of reflections on the important themes that are developed, especially on the history of humanity and on the societies that have developed over the millennia.
Through his ancestral memories, the Emperor knows the effects of every type of government on a human society and above all every tyranny. By harnessing this knowledge, he forges the future of humanity in the Golden Path which, according to prescience, will prevent its extinction. Paradoxically, in order to save humanity, he loses his humanity. In many ways, he’s the greatest anti-hero in the history of mankind but in the course of the novel, a truly complex and multifaceted character emerges who confronts his enemies in ways that may initially be perplexing.
Attempts at rebellion include plans to kill the Emperor but the direct attack is only part of them. In some cases, the term machination is more appropriate than ever because the Ixians operate in various ways that include the development of new machines, sometimes in contrast with the dictates of the Butlerian jihad.
In “The God Emperor of Dune”, Frank Herbert continues the development of the Dune saga in a way that’s different from the previous books. For this reason, it’s perhaps the most controversial of the series, considered by some to be even better than the first novel and very boring by others. It certainly contains thought-provoking reflections regarding humanity and for this reason, I believe it’s a must-read.