Publisher: Guild Publishing
Series: Dune Chronicles (#6)
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 1986
The Honored Martres have taken control of humanity, and the ancient order of the Bene Gesserit are forced into hiding. The choice before them is simple: Fight an unwinnable battle, or betray everything they have ever held sacred . . .
I genuinely don’t know what to think about Chapter House Dune. On the one hand, it’s the most enjoyable of Frank Herbert’s novels since Messiah. On the other, the series has been in decline since that point and this late resurgence can’t atone for the amount of madness that it builds on. I’m not sure if I like Chapter House more than the other books, or if I’m just more forgiving of its flaws because it’s shorter. The brevity certainly works in its favour, and even the hefty philosophical debates breeze by in a way they haven’t in previous volumes. It’s a tragedy that Frank Herbert died before he could write the final Dune novel, because Chapter House‘s prose and pacing are a massive step up from what has gone before. If it hadn’t been saddled with the consequences of previous volumes, this could even have equalled Messiah as my favourite book in the series.
But those consequences are there. And no matter how good this book could have been, it still has one massive problem: The Honored Martres We get a lot of insight to their worldview here, and it’s not a pretty picture. The Honored Martres are all about consumption, echoing the voracious appetite of the Baron Harkonnen all those centuries ago. The example given is a painting. The Bene Gesserit love the art because of its history. The Honored Martres crave it because if they own it, no one else can. Their entire society is based around possession. In this book we get dozens of pages of dialogue between Honored Martres and Bene Gesserit comparing their orders, and even though it’s all just talk, it’s some of the most gripping and interesting writing Herbert ever put to the page.
All this philosophy comes close to redeeming the Honored Martres as a concept, but as he so often does, Herbert shoots himself in the foot by making it all about sex. The Honored Martrs derive sexual pleasure from their conquests. they can brainwash you with sex. They can apparently be turned against their own if the sex is good enough. It’s all utterly nonsensical, and brings an otherwise interesting concept crashing down to earth. if I never have to read the phrases ‘orgasmic bang’ and ‘sexual collision’ again, it will still be too soon. Herbert’s fascination with sexual dominance ruins this book. It’s weird, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s off-putting. I can only be glad he didn’t go into too much biological detail.
It’s hard to talk about Chapter House without discussing the ending. It’s not a cliffhanger, but it does leave a lot unresolved. You could stop here if you chose, but it’s obvious a seventh book was planned. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the climax is the very final scene, which introduces two entirely new characters in the form of Daniel and Marty. there is no clues whatsoever who these people are supposed to be, or what their relevance to the book, or indeed the series, is. Cut of this final scene and you have an unsatisfying conclusion to a meandering series. leave it in, and you have one final enigma that gives a confusing saga one final head-scratching question. Thankfully, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson took it upon themselves to give a proper ending, which we’ll get into soon enough.
For now though, we bid a final farewell to Frank Herbert’s tenure at the helm of the Dune saga. It didn’t always make a lot of sense, but it was an interesting journey.