Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Frank Herbert is a man whose works need no introduction, with his Dune series being one of the most celebrated and influential writings of all time. In the fourth book of the series, God Emperor of Dune, we follow the story of the now-inhuman Leto Atreides, son of Paul, who once merged with a sandworm to preserve humanity, attaining a quasi-immortality. A rebellion stirs in his house to oppose his oppressive rule, but it might all play into his hands.
Table of contents
Frank Herbert Makes his Divine Being
The Dune series by Frank Herbert has come a very long way since the humble beginnings of Paul Atreides and his transformation into Muad’Dib, and if you’ve found your way here without knowing much of the other books, I would recommend you have a look at our Dune review, as well as its sequels. Otherwise, it will be rather difficult for you to get into God Emperor of Dune, the fourth entry. Indeed, this is very much a book series which must be read in order.
In any case, for those of you who are still here, the fourth book in the series takes a bit of a different path from the rest, jumping forward three and a half thousand years into the future, where Leto II Atreides reigns supreme.
In order to save humanity, he once merged his body with a sandworm, turning him into a unique being blessed with immortality, quasi-invulnerability, and prescience of tremendous accuracy. However, the transformation into something of a deity has taken a harsh toll on Leto II, both in terms of his physical appearance and his sense of morality.
Additionally, his rule has been anything but benevolent, and the further he finds himself sinking into the abyss of inhumanity, the more his subjects are beginning to rally against what is becoming a sort of divine figure. More specifically, there is a rebellion brewing within House Atreides, one led by a certain Sion a, dead-set on opposing Leto II’s rule.
Enemies strengthen you. Allies weaken.― Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune
However, the God Emperor is far from being a simple enemy to contend with, having a golden plan of his own to fulfill for the sake of humanity… and he might have a much tighter grasp over the pieces on this chessboard than anyone realizes.
The Study of Leto in God Emperor of Dune
So far, the Dune series has been fairly consistent in following a certain structure which promises consistent advancements in the plot, and an equally-steady development of its characters. However, with God Emperor of Dune, we take a bit of a detour from this, and I will come out and say it right away, the approach taken by Frank Herbert here probably isn’t to everyone’s liking.
With over three thousand years having passed from the last book, we are presented with a world whose development we haven’t witnessed, leaving us with a number of questions about how it all came to be, and most importantly, the mystery of Leto II’s character.
As a matter of fact, I would say the mystery of Leto II is the core around which this book is built, with much of it being focused on flashbacks which explain the path travelled until here. On one hand, this means we get a ton of interesting information about the Dune world as well as insight into an appreciably-complex character who is certainly deserving of study.
When I need to identify rebels, I look for men with principles.― Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune
On the other hand, this also means we don’t get treated to much actual plot progress. It pains me to say it, but as much as I loved the excursion into the realm of Dune, I did find the amount of headway made to have been somewhat underwhelming. Nevertheless, I think if I had gone into the book with foreknowledge of this, it wouldn’t have bothered me to any extent.
In other words, if you’ve enjoyed the previous novels for their pace and structure (among other things), then be prepared to make some adjustments when moving on to this one. It offers a markedly different experience, one which I found satisfying in its own right.
The Space Leviathan
While the structure and focus of the story might have changed in comparison with the previous entries into the book, if there is one constant which can always be counted on, it’s Frank Herbert‘s predisposition towards philosophical content. We might be over the halfway point of the series, but he still has plenty of ideas and subjects to put on paper.
I might be a little off-base here, but I felt like the philosophical overtones were even stronger than in the previous novels, with many passages obviously being reflections of the author’s inner deliberations more than anything else. Thankfully, they’re always written very clearly and concisely, making them fairly easy to follow even on the more difficult and complicated paths.
The truth always carries the ambiguity of the words used to express it.― Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune
As far as the overarching theme goes, I think it’s pretty obvious Herbert took a good deal of inspiration from the Thomas Hobbes classic Leviathan, which is essentially what Leto II has become in his own universe. Now, I’m not saying Herbert outright copied Hobbes, but rather, has taken an interest in the concepts presented by the latter and decided to explore them within the framework of his own universe.
Consequently, we explore many of the themes pertaining to such a story, including the benefits and drawbacks of a rule under an absolute sovereign, as well as the idea of uniting the entirety of humanity against a common enemy. While the ideas he explores here aren’t exactly new or groundbreaking, I think they are complex enough to merit further thought beyond their inception.
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Naturally, there are plenty of discussion and reflection topics which emerge out of this, including the right to despotism by violence (who has it, if anyone?), humanity’s tendency to self-destruct despite its individual self-preservation instincts, and whether true benevolence would be possible by a Leviathan-like figure.
The Final Verdict
God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert, contrary to its predecessors, is much more geared towards meditations and reflections rather than plot progression. It’s more akin to a historical excursion into the last three thousand years of the epic Dune universe, with a good deal of philosophy thrown into the mix.
Personally, I enjoyed the journey quite a bit, especially after I came to terms with this particular book’s structure. If you’ve read the previous entries into the Dune series and want to keep going, I do recommend you pick this book up, if of course you don’t mind all the things I’ve discussed in my review.
(October 8, 1920 – February 11, 1986)
Frank Herbert was an American author who primarily wrote in the science-fiction genre, with the 1965 novel Dune and its five sequels being considered as his magnum opus.
He also worked as a newspaper journalist, a photographer, book reviewer, lecturer and ecological consultant. In addition to being made into two movies, Dune also won the 1965 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1966 Hugo Award.