No science fiction universe is as rich or as dark as Frank Herbert's. Here's what you need to know - it's set long enough into the future that no-one's heard of Earth, humans are on tens of thousands of worlds, and society has reverted to feudalism. There was a crusade millennia earlier against AI so technology is strictly regulated. And everything revolves around a substance called spice which increases your lifespan, causes psychic powers, turns your eyes blue and lets you travel through hyperspace. And Dune's the only place in the galaxy where it's found.
This is book three in the series. If you've seen the David Lynch film, you know how the first book ends - the good Paul Maud'Dib defeats the baddies on the back of a sandworm and becomes Emperor of the Universe. Hooray! Book two, Dune Messiah, begins after a religious jihad has swept the universe in Paul's name killing 61 billion people. Um...hooray?
As you might expect in Children of Dune the focus is on Paul's children. Leto and Ghamina are nine years old, but since they both have the memories of all their ancestors, they don't really act like kids. A side effect of way too much spice. It's the same story with Paul's sister Alia, who's acting as their regent. And she's not coping all that well with the whole memory thing.
The plot's all about plotting - they can't help trying to kill each other (and I do like assassination by cat.) Each conversation plays out like a chess game, with moves and countermoves which are entirely different to what the words mean on the surface. These scenes are exhilirating and never turn out the way you expect. You can apply that to the whole book as well.
I love how the Dune universe is one of contradictions. The stuff of which fuels everything only grows on a virtually dead planet. It's set in the far future, but it feels ancient. They travel between the stars but technology is feared and hated. You've got religion and mysticism coming up against realpolitik and ecology. Even things like the medieval/byzantine culture of the galaxy contrasting with the arabic mythology on Dune. So much to get your teeth into.
Most people reckon the Dune books get increasingly ropey, until the myriad prequels co-written by Herbert's son which I've heard are virtually unreadable. For the moment, I'm still riding that sandworm rollercoaster.