House Trilogy

House Corrino, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

corrinoWhat can I say about Jessica?  Given the opportunity, she would attempt Voice on God.
-Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam

One of the first observations of the last book was that it didn’t quite feel like a book about House Harkonnen.  I can say without any hesitation that I don’t have that same feeling about the finale of this trilogy, Dune:  House Corrino.  While the Houses Atreides and Harkonnen are most definitely present, it’s the activities of Shaddam IV, Emperor of the Known Universe-and equally importantly, his plots-that drive this book.

Shaddam is a little uneasy on the throne, of late; firstly, he’s still very eager for a plot on the world of Xuttuh, formerly known as Ix, where production on an artificial substitute for the miracle spice melange is finally beginning to reach fruition.  Secondly, he learns that his father managed to father another son, who could conceivably be a threat to his throne.  And of course, he still wants sons from his wife (not realizing that his wife, a Bene Gesserit, will never give him one).

His plans may be thwarted in an unexpected manner, however.  Grief-stricken from the events of House Harkonnen, Leto Atreides decides to make a point that he hasn’t become weak by his losses-and one of his plans involves aiding his longtime friend, Rhombur Vernius, in his goals of freeing his world of Ix from the Tleilaxu; an expedition consisting of Gurney Halleck and the mentat Thufir Hawat is sent to speak with the rebel C’tair Pilru, who has made a pest of himself there for the last couple of books.

To make matters even more interesting, Baron Harkonnen has no clue that the Emperor is planning to make his fiefdom of the planet Arrakis obsolete; he is aware, however, that the Emperor is beginning to act against Houses stockpiling the spice, and that makes him just a bit nervous; in addition, he is becoming aware that his last strike against the Atreides hasn’t gone quite as well as he’d hoped for the long-term, and is looking for a way to recoup his own influence.  I’ll say right now that if any reader doesn’t shudder at the thought of the Baron and the Beast taking lessons from an etiquette advisor, they really don’t know the characters!

The Fremen of Arrakis are also moving forward with the vision of Liet-Kynes; Kynes himself attempts to convince Shaddam that Arrakis could be made a relative paradise, with the Imperium’s help-not to mention putting a leash on the Baron.  This doesn’t really fit in with Shaddam’s plans, though, so Kynes returns with a clear message for his people.

Finally, Jessica, Leto’s concubine, is with child, and is sent to the Kaitain, the Corrino world, by the demand of her Bene Gesserit masters; of course, they don’t realize she’s not carrying the daughter they demanded; the Bene Gesserit also have to figure out how best to get rid of the no-ship technology used so effectively in the previous books.

If you get the impression that there’s a lot of plots rotating within each other here…well, that is the hallmark of the Dune novels.  It amazes me how well it holds together, especially given my long-standing prejudice against Kevin Anderson.  Incidentally, I’ll take a moment to admit that I have been impressed with his writing for this entire trilogy.  He’s blended together the bits that were known about this period, and managed to pull off a story well worthy of Frank Herbert.  Also, I don’t want to neglect Brian Herbert; I really don’t know how the division of labor went in this book, but the pair have managed to recapture the magic I enjoyed years ago when I first read Dune.

Dune fans should find this novel to be very satisfying, and there’s enough “easter eggs” that old readers will enjoy spotting.  They really can’t go wrong with this series; and new readers would do well to read this series, and then hit the original books.  As I recall, the original plan was to write the final book of the Dune series, a sequel to Chapterhouse:  Dune.  I’ve also heard rumors of a new trilogy of prequels.  I’m not sure what will come next, but with this pair of writers, I’m eager to find out.

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House Harkonnen, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

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!)

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House Atreides, by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

We all live in the shadows of our predecessors for a time.  But we who determine the fate of planets eventually reach the point at which we become not the shadows, but the light itself.
-Prince Raphael Corino, Discourses on Leadership

Before I get into the details of this review, I have to confess to a pair of biases concerning this book.

First, I loved the book Dune. I’m pretty sure that it was the first Sci-fi book I read that wasn’t a Star Trek or Star Wars novel (back when both were only up to single digits). I loved the intrigue and treachery, the action, the “feints within feints within feints”. I immediately got a hold of the sequels Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God Emperor of Dune. When Heretics of Dune and Chapter House Dune came out, I went to the nearest library every day to hunt them down and read them (back when I couldn’t afford hardbacks). Obviously, that ended with the death of Frank Herbert, the author of those books. When I heard earlier this year that there was a new Dune book coming out, it wasn’t surprising that I wanted to know everything, most especially “who’s writing it?” and “when’s it coming out?” The resulting search for info ran smack head-first into my second bias.

I do not like Kevin Anderson’s writing. The first books of his that I read was his Champions of the Force trilogy for Star Wars, and I loathed those books. It had gotten me to the point that when he wrote Darksaber, I chose to read it in the library rather than spend the money on a hardcover book that he wrote. (Eventually, I did buy the book in a $5 bargain books section at the local Barnes & Noble…more to complete my collection of Star Wars hardcovers than anything else) When I discovered that he was co-writing this book, I hesitated. I decided, though, to take a chance, as he was co-writing with Frank Herbert’s son, and working from notes that the famed author had taken when writing his other books.

So: was it worth it?

I’ve heard mixed reviews on the Internet on this book. It seems that it gets strong reactions either way-people loved the new book, or they hated it. Not too much middle ground, there. I’m going to have to side with the people who loved it.

I’ll leave it for other reviewers who will undoubtedly point out some minor continuity glitches. I’ll admit there were portions of the book that didn’t strike true with me, such as the somewhat more overt nature of the Bene Tleilax. On the other hand, just because it wasn’t seen in the original novels doesn’t mean it couldn’t have developed as it did in this one; in fact, events in this book and the future sequels that lead up to the original Dune novel might explain the much “lower key” nature of the Tleilaxu.

For readers of the original books, this is a glimpse at characters that we hardly had any time to know. While the title implies heavily that this is Leto Atreides’s book, he’s really more a member of the ensemble until the final acts. We get to see the athletic and handsome Baron Harkonnen (that’s right…not fat and ugly; that’s explained too). We get the full story behind the birth of Jessica, a look at the younger Gaius Helen Mohiam, the schemes of Shaddam IV before he became emperor and the role that the future Count Fenring would play in it, the beginnings of the relationship between the Fremen and Pardot Kynes, Imperial Planetologist, and a few others. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Dune book without Duncan Idaho, a young boy growing to hate Harkonnens.

We also get to see new faces; Paulus Atreides, the Old Duke and bullfighter, Emperor Elrood, and Reverend Mother Anirul Sadow Tonkin, who is known amongst the Bene Gesserit as the Kwisatz Mother-guardian of the ultimate goal of the Sisterhood. We get to see the machine world of Ix, which is much different than I imagined, at least. And the book also starts the beginnings of some plot points that won’t be fully realized until God Emperor and Heretics of Dune-one of the benefits of working prequels.

Each chapter has the little quotes that appeared in the original books (in fact, some of the quotes are lifted right from the originals!) and preserves the flavor of those books. As for the story and writing itself…well, it isn’t Frank Herbert. But I didn’t expect it to. Fans expecting the same kind of books that he wrote aren’t going to get it. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson have written a book in his world, but with their own perspective, only being guided by what has gone before.

To sum up, I found this to be an enjoyable read; if it lacked some of the complexities of the original series, it made up for it with new locations and situations. While there might be some points which seem to contradict earlier continuity, this novel has minimized those situations, and fits pretty well into place. I look forward to the next book, where I’m looking forward to the growth of Leto, Duncan, Jessica, Shaddam, and Baron Harkonnen into the characters they will become years later in Dune.

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