Thirteen years earlier, Frank Herbert published his last Dune story, "Dune: Chapterhouse" and shortly thereafter we lost him. After much to-ing and fro-ing, his son, Brian Herbert, finally published a new Dune story, with his co-author Kevin J. Anderson. Details of which are recounted in the Afterword in this novel.
This book did not pick up where Frank Herbert left off; that story had to wait for a later time. Brian and Kevin decided to give us a thorough backstory of the three most influential Houses of the time: Atreides, Harkonnen and Corrino. They wrote a trilogy starting with this one.
This was high drama and fine storytelling. Events were placed about forty years prior to the events in the first Dune book; when Leto Atreides was still a growing boy. Emperor Elrood rules the known universe and House Harkonnen is already under the control of Vladimir Harkonnen.
Leto's father, the Old Duke, decides to send his son to the machine world of Ix where his boyhood friend rules; he intends Leto to learn more of the universe under the tutelage of Ix. Elrood is a very very old man but to his impatient son, Shaddam, it appears the old man intends to live forever. Shaddam is eager to put his mark on the universe and in the way of all sons, is sure he can do a better job. Harkonnen has another forty years of ownership of Arrakis and intends to make the most of it; secreting as much spice as he can while continuing to supply the Emperor.
Elrood sees the problem as one of supply and control; only one planet in the known universe can create spice and someone has to be in charge. Elrood would like an alternative so when an unscrupulous Tleilaxu suggests they might be able to synthesize spice in their axtolt tanks, Elrood is an eager listener; he just has no intention of sharing the technology with the other Houses. The Tleilaxu require state-of-the-art technology and a secret base in which to do their experiments. In typical House Corrino fashion, Elrood instigates a revolt of the labor class on Ix…while Leto Atreides is there. After the revolt, Elrood intends the Tleilaxu to take charge of the planet while he makes the ruling family outlaws. At about the same time, he also needs more information about the origins of spice so sends the Planetologist Pardot Kynes to Arrakis; thereby setting up everything that follows.
For Shaddam, the only action he knows of is the research begun by Kynes; and he is unhappy at how slow he sees his father's progress. We are introduced to Shaddam's childhood friend, the Count Fenring - a fascinating creature we saw in "Dune: Chapterhouse". Fenring must've been born ruthless as he is Shaddam's creature through and through; doing the hard jobs like assassinating Shaddam's older brother some years earlier. Shaddam and Fenring hatch a plot to dispose of the old Emperor; that while risky, will provide great rewards to both.
We are also treated to the origin story of Duncan Idaho, a child-slave on Geidi Prime. Duncan encounters the Baron Harkonnen's nephew, later known as Beast Rabban. Despite the fact Duncan is a mere child, Rabban does not fare well. And we learn what made Duncan the persistent and stubborn man he later becomes.
Meanwhile, Baron Harkonnen sees House Atreides as a threat and a nuisance. He is gifted with a rare and astounding new technology which he uses to frame House Atreides; but the feint doesn't succeed thanks to the will and wisdom of the yet-only-a-teenager Leto Atreides. The actions Leto takes sets the stage for the respect and power House Atreides later garners. Baron Harkonnen is characterized as a lean, powerful and sexy man; which intrigued me as the only mental image I ever had was the description given in the first Dune book. I was fascinated to see how they explained away his physical decline but felt it was rather gratuitously shoehorned in just to give the Bene Gesserit something to do in this story. Their presence is felt only slightly in this story; they are still in the last stages of creating their kwisatz haderach.
There is a puzzling sidestory giving us a bit of insight into Guild Navigators but I couldn't see why it was there. It felt very much like the authors felt they had to introduce as many familiar faces and concepts as possible to grab the interest of those who read the original stories.
And, finally, we watch Pardot Kynes not only become a fremen but start the process which eventually becomes their religion: Dune will have water! And, of course, the namedropping includes Stilgar.
Overall, it was a better story than I anticipated; which is not to say it was on a level with Frank Herbert's books. But it was fun storytelling. To be honest, though, all the namedropping did satisfy this reader's need to return to the original Dune so I guess that ploy worked. There were so many locations for this story, worldbuilding was not as detailed as I would've liked. The characters were pretty much as expected; no real surprises there. But, to be fair, they really couldn't bring in new characters in this first endeavor. The plot was intricate enough to be interesting while telling me stuff I already knew but adding the why. ~~ Catherine Book
For more titles in the Dune series click here
For more titles by Brian Herbert click here
For more titles by Kevin J Anderson click here