Series: Dune Chronicles (#5)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 1984
Long after the death of the Tyrant Leto Atreides, the human race still follows his Golden Path. But now the ancient order of the Bene Gesserit face a new enemy who may throw all into chaos once more. An enemy that finds its roots shockingly close to home . . .
Heretics of Dune is an improvement on its predecessor for one simple reason. With this book, Frank Herbert has written a novel rather than an essay. We have characters! We have plot! Unfortunately, neither of these is enough to make up for how little I enjoyed this book. It’s a step in the right direction, granted, but a good book this is not.
As with the previous book, Heretics of Dune introduces an entirely new cast, with one notable exception. Duncan Idaho is still around, albeit in ghola form – and a child ghola at that. There’s a sense that things are coming full circle as the reborn Duncan is trained in the arts he once taught to young Paul Atreides. Indeed, at this point it seems that Duncan Idaho is the true protagonist of the Dune series. Even though he’s been killed off multiple times, and the current version is a copy of a copy, he is still the one constant thread running through the Frank Herbert’s books. What this means for the series is that we have yet another shift to a new protagonist, now following Duncan as he learns things we already know, and in some cases have known for several books.
This entire series has a well-deserved reputation for being full of weird. We saw that early on, when giant worms guarded a spice that could both render you immortal and enable you to travel through space. That particular thread reached its apex in God Emperor of Dune, but somehow Frank Herbert manages to make things even weirder with this fifth book in his series. How? I hear you ask. The answer is simple: evil dominatrix space nuns.
In theory, the idea of a malevolent version of the Bene Gesserit makes perfect sense. The wise women of Herbert’s future have been manipulating events behind the scenes for thousands of years. They are both awe-inspiring and terrible, and are rightly called witches by many. So of course it stands to reason that some could take those Bene Gesserit teachings and turn them towards more overtly sinister goals. That has the potential to be an interesting concept. The concept we actually end up with, however, is the Honoured Matres. Descended from Bene Gesserit who fled Leto II centuries earlier, I still don’t know what their end goal is. All we really see are their methods. Sex. Lots and lots of sex. All of it incredibly painful to read. I don’t exactly know how they destroy planets with sex, and quite frankly I don’t care. If Frank Herbert had never included sex in his writing, the world would be a better place. The Honoured Matres are so appallingly written, it’s difficult to see past them. The story of Duncan Idaho is an interesting one, but it’s drowned in some of the worst space opera I can think of.
If you can put up with the Honoured Matres, there is a little reward to be found in this book. If not, you’ll likely have a similar reaction to me.