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.