After four stellar novels in the Dune series, the fifth one, Heretics of Dune (1984), left me spinning. The original Atreides people were all gone and new elements and political factions entered the story that felt divorced from what the series has been about all this time. The novel lacked a clear point for me. This was, after all, because Heretics of Dune was only the first third of a new tale. Let’s see whether the sequel can bring it all home.
Chapterhouse: Dune (1985) written a year later, jumps ahead a decade or so and follows the same characters. The violent Honored Matres have rampaged across the old empire, destroying the Bene Tleilax and closing in on the Bene Gesserit. Odrade, the new Mother Superior, feels the enormous weight on her shoulders in trying to save the order and she may have some secret weapons in Duncan Idaho and the worm-riding Sheeana. Plus, the Honored Matres may be renegade Bene Gesserit in the first place, and their power has a mesmerizing effect on the restrained, emotionless Bene Gesserit sisters.
In a sense, Chapterhouse: Dune does bring things full circle. The story about Odrade and the fight between these two galactic powers is about a rediscovering of love and humanity. After the millennia of disruption of human nature during Leto’s reign in God Emperor of Dune (1981), humanity dispersed throughout the universe like an explosion, but the only ones left to guard humanity were the Bene Gesserit and their kin who left in the Scattering. But the Bene Gesserit never saw Leto’s Golden Path, because they reject human affection and hence Leto’s question to them: “what is your plan for humanity, or are you just a little cult?” In Heretics of Dune I lamented that every faction in Herbert’s universe is disgusting, but that was also by design, and both the Bene Gesserit and the Honored Matres are corruptions of human nature in their own ways. Perhaps now, more than 1500 years after Leto’s demise, humanity can heal and rediscover itself.
After the scattered storytelling and quick action of Heretics of Dune, Chapterhouse: Dune is more willing to explore the worlds of Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres deeper. It’s also more willing to explore Odrade and the rest of the characters. Herbert’s writing calmed down and lies closer to the heart of the story.
However, the story suffers from what became Herbert’s modus operandi of squeezing most action in the final act, preceding it by a few hundred pages of pondering contemplation where it isn’t clear which ideas have relevance to the eventual conclusion and which are unrelated mumblings. Here we have Sister Odrade in numerous scenes staring out the window, having Profound Thoughts, with nothing much happening. Granted, God Emperor of Dune followed the same scheme, but that novel at least was about a semi-immortal giant worm-human emperor! And taking that seriously! That was brilliant. Odrade isn’t equally interesting; in fact, the no-ship holds a more interesting group with Idaho, Miles Teg, Murbella and Scytale, and I wish the story followed them more.
When the plot finally shifts gear in the final quarter, an avalanche of interesting scenes march by, finally relieving some of the build-up tensions and bringing things nicely together. But to keep with Herbert’s own sexual themes, I wished the foreplay was more pleasant. Another sad fact is that the novel ends with a cliffhanger and Herbert’s 7th Dune novel remains forever unwritten (and I’ve been informed that the sequels written by his son should be collected using long sticks and poured into concrete next to Chernobyl). Still, we are left with a pretty good idea of how the universe will develop in the future and I am happy to let the Dune series rest here.