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Chapterhouse Dune

Published by Ace Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

Chapterhouse Dune is the last Dune book that Frank Herbert wrote. It is the first one to be a direct sequel of the previous book. Not only does it take up immediately after Heretics of Dune ended, but it also continues the same narrative thrust rather than standing on its own as an independent contribution as the previous books each did.

Then there is the cliffhanger ending, which leaves the reader in midair, helplessly groping for some clue to how it all winds up. When it first came out, readers simply assumed that it would be followed by one more volume that would tie everything up. But when Frank Herbert died in 1986 and no manuscript was forthcoming, Dune fans began to grope for some kind of rational explanation for the way in which they had been dropped. Some of the explanations were quite inventive, including the one that suggested the mysterious figures of Daniel and Marty in fact represented none less than Frank Herbert and his wife, letting go of his creations at last to go into the great beyond of literary quasi-life.

However, taking the book as a whole, one gets the impression that Frank Herbert felt he was racing against time when he was writing the book. Much of the book seems incompletely thought out, with ideas thrust forward but never fully considered or developed. No doubt he knew as he was writing that he would not have much time, that the illness that was killing him was progressing rapidly and his only hope would be to write faster than it.

The first several chapters are entirely reaction by the various principal characters to the events that concluded Heretics of Dune, particularly the death of Miles Teg and the destruction of Rakis by the Honored Matres. Thus the sudden introduction of the secret Jews into the narrative seems rather forced, particularly given that previous installments of the Dune saga have focused primarily on Islamic symbolism and cultural motifs. Rebecca the Jewish woman who is also a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother always feels as though she were forcibly inserted into the story rather than rising organically from the world that has been developed.

That complaint could be leveled against the entire book, for that matter. It reads like a jumble of elements thrown together without ever really coalescing. Perhaps Frank Herbert was trying to create a sense of the chaos resulting from the attack of the Honored Matres, but instead the reader becomes confused. It is not helped by the relative flatness of the characterization, particularly compared with that of the early volumes, in which each major character was vividly limned and stuck in the mind. Quite honestly, I couldn't keep all the different Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres characters apart in my mind -- they all blurred together.

Even the idea of the Bene Gesserit finally succeeding in transplanting sandworms to a new world and successfully creating a new Dune on their Chapter House world (apparently not Wallach IX, but some other world) never quite catches fire. We never really see or feel the growing desert the way we felt the desert sands in our nostrils along with Paul and Jessica in the original Dune.

On the whole, while this book is certainly better than the endless prequels, sequels, and interquels that his son Brian Herbert is churning out with the assistance of Kevin J. Anderson. But that's not saying much, particularly when the real standard was set by the excellence of the original Dune. In fact, it might have been just as well had Frank Herbert ended the Dune series with God Emperor of Dune.

Review posted February 18, 2009.

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