Top positive review
Messiah, maybe less Dune
Reviewed in the United States on February 27, 2020
Messiah is a bit of a dividing book, but then again so are all the books that followed Frank Herbert's Dune. Dune is an all-time sci-fi classic, unimpeachable thanks to its vast influence over other a broad range of media. Messiah? Not as much.
What is Messiah about? Set 12 years after Dune, Messiah is about the world Paul-Muad'dib set in motion in the first book. You see the ramifications of his decisions, and you get quite a bit of pontificating about the nature of fate. Can the fortune-tellers of Dune really affect the future, or are they only catching glimpses of a destiny that already awaits them? That's what this book is really about.
What makes Messiah different? Messiah takes the political subtext that was a big part of Dune, and elevates that aspect of the story until it nearly excludes the other portions. You're not going to get the same big battles, the fascinating technology, the brand-new ecologies. A lot of fans of Dune were really into that book book because of those far-future technological aspects, so they find this book strangely lacking. In Messiah you get what is almost an alternate-universe political treatise with oblique only references to the technologies of the first book. It's one part philosophy, one part politics, and really only a splash of far-future science fiction for flavor.
Is Messiah good? I think it's so-so. At half the length of Dune, it's certainly not as epic in scope. Dune was not slow in pace, so that page count really does mean something. Messiah is by comparison just a short treatise. It's not bad, but it really doesn't expand on the Dune universe in a way that I was hoping for. I love the politics, but Herbet really skimped on the rest of the book getting there. If you padded out this book to Dune's length by inserting those action scenes back in, I might like it more. Repeatedly having characters wander from room to room pontificating while offhandedly mentioning the genocide of dozens of planets at a go does leave room for some exploration into that latter part of the story.
Is Messiah worth reading? I'm in the process of re-reading the Dune novels before the upcoming movie, so at the moment I'm solidly in the camp of saying it's fine to stop with Dune. I have vague memories of Messiah and Children and Chapterhouse, and I found the whole thing underwhelming. People often say God Emperor is worth the trip, but having been so long since I read it and obviously since that book didn't stick with me, I'm not sure I agree. Maybe my mood will change after going through the series again but from where I stand - either stop at Dune, or buckle in for the whole series. Messiah is definitely more along the lines of the rest of the series. There's a lot of politics and philosophy ahead, so maybe that will help you decide if you want to go on.
Overall: Messiah is okay. There's a reason people only talk about Dune, and not its sequel books. This is in stark contrast to something like Lord of the Rings, where people almost exclusively talk about the series (or at least the main trilogy) as a whole. Messiah isn't bad, but it also differs from its predecessor in fundamental ways. There's less action, less technology, and more philosophy. If that's your bag, maybe Messiah is for you.