Treachery and quick thinking will defeat hard-and-fast rules any day. Why should we be afraid to seize the opportunities we see?
-Viscount Hundro Moritani, Response to Landsraad Court Summons
In some ways, it’s a little strange that this book is called Dune: House Harkonnen.
It covers the eight years following the last book of this trilogy, Dune: House Atreides. There’s a lot of subplots going on here. Duke Leto of Caladan is dealing with affairs of state and the heart. Duncan Idaho, the one character who has been in every Dune book so far, is sent to the planet of Ginaz to study with the legendary Swordmasters. Gurney Halleck is introduced, a man desperate to find what has come of his sister on the Harkonnen world of Giedi Prime. The young Liet-Kynes, future planetologist of the Imperium grows up on Arrakis with his fellow Fremen. And C’tair Pilru, a rebel on the Tleilaxu-occupied planet of Ix, tries to find a way to drive them off his world.
But while there are many threads going through this book, there is an excellent reason why the Harkonnens get top billing in this book. The mostly-despicable Harkonnens are the driving force behind this book. Baron Harkonnen, for example, finally finds out why his once-healthy body is bloating up-and takes typical action to try to repay his tormentors. The Harkonnen homeworld is a source of grief for Gurney Halleck, as their actions take his sister away from him. Glossu Rabban earns his title of “The Beast” in this book…and we see more of probably the only example of a Harkonnen that could be considered a moral person, Abulurd Harkonnen.
As with the previous book, intrigue and treachery-a staple of Dune novels-are present, in every one of the Great Houses. House Harkonnen deals with internal strife even as it makes strikes both covert and overt against its enemies. Houses Atreides deals with not only the turmoil of sheltering the heirs of House Vernius, but with matters of the heart-complicated by the introduction of the young Bene Gesserit named Jessica. In House Corrino-which doesn’t get too many pages on this one-Emperor Shaddam IV discovers the difficulties in having a Bene Gesserit wife who is secretly insuring that she bears him only daughters instead of the male heir he desires.
In addition to this, we see the first appearances of both Feyd-Rautha, future gladiator extraordinaire, and Dr. Wellington Yueh, who turns out to be far more interesting than when I’d first read about him in the original novel Dune. There are also-once again!-tantalizing hints of the future as chronicled in the later novels: the Tleilaxu are working on experiments in Ix that aren’t destined to see fulfillment until Heretics of Dune; the Harkonnen no-ship, and the reason why it hasn’t been seen long after, is resolved. There are prophecies: one of the Fremen foresee that “the mouse and the hawk are the same!”, which longtime readers will have no trouble figuring out. And Piter deVries, the Harkonnen mentat, foresees the loss of the House’s melange monopoly…but not enough to tell him how or why (but fans of the series already know the answer to that).
The greatest appeal of this book-and the previous one, as well as the next one (Dune: House Corrino, if I recall correctly)-is showing just who were the characters who were introduced in Dune that we never go the chance to know. As I’ve said before, I’m not Kevin Anderson’s biggest fan, but I’m still one the roller coaster for this collaboration. If you enjoyed the Dune books by Frank Herbert-or even if you just read Dune: House Atreides-go buy this book and read it!
(As an aside, there is a mini-series premiering in December on the Sci-Fi Channel-in theory, they’re going to show Dune as it should have been done in the theaters way back. It’s all new, and if you get the Sci-Fi channel, it’ll probably be worth seeing. I don’t think I’ll be reviewing it, as this is a book review site, but it might encourage me to review the original novel!)