Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dune: House Atreides

Brian Hebert and Kevin J. Anderson
Bantam Spectra, 1999 (my copy is from 2000)
Size: Large (my copy has 673 pages)
Theme: Futuristic space opera
Narrative: third-person (also occasionally first-person)
Main character: Leto Atreides
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES


Dune: House Atreides is the first of a trilogy that predates the classic novel Dune by Frank Herbert. This trilogy occurs a couple of decades before the original Dune novel storyline. As a side note, these authors would later produce other prequels, and more recently also a midquel, in the Dune universe. It should be pointed out that the Dune universe is one of the most famous and highly regarded sci-fi stories of all times. Thus, trying to follow on those footsteps is no easy task, particularly since it follows the lives of many characters we have learned to love (or loath) in Dune. However, I have found House Atreides to be an excellent book of itself, and the trilogy to be a worthwhile addition to the Dune books. There is definitely more action but less character development in House Atreides than the original Dune. Thus, it somewhat lacks the depth of Dune, but it is equally stimulating.

As could be expected for a story aiming at exploring the Dune universe, there are many characters, with individual personalities (and quirks). Nevertheless, it was easy to bond with each character and follow the relationships between them. In this book, we learn more about many of Dune’s major characters and groups/races. We see a different side to many of these, including Baron Harkonnen and Leto Atreides.
This book offers a very particular description of events, namely by switching from character to character at every chapter. In one chapter we follow a Navigator’s first attempt at folding space, whereas in the next we listen to a discussion inside House Harkonnen, and in the next we move to a fishing village in Caladan. While it might sound like this will make it hard to follow the plot line, I have found it very enjoyable and it prevents any possible boredom. The story is fast paced and compelling. In fact, sometimes I found myself in anticipation of the next events of a particular character, and every night it was hard to put the book down. All the individual plot lines are brought together through the book and it manages to offer a quasi-ending totally appropriate to what was planned as a trilogy from the start.

I should mention that I have read it after watching the Dune movie (1984), but before reading Dune, which means I was familiar with the main plot and characters, but had little knowledge of the deeper levels of the story. Although it is a prequel, I would still suggest that it is only read after the original Dune series, since it brings an entirely new perspective on many events.

Spoiler (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
The final chapters of the book describe how the Harkonnen manage to use a no-ship inside a Heighliner to simulate an attack by the Atreides ship on a Tleilaxu ship during a foldspace jump. This later leads to Leto being arrested to face a harsh trial, being saved by the testimony of his cousin Crown Prince Saddam (crowned Emperor after the death of his father, and who is to marry a Bene Gesserit according to their plans in search of the Kwasit Haderach). We also learn of Dominic Vernius moving his rebel operations to Arrakis, where Fenring is also stationed by Saddam, which starts to set the stage for the importance of Arrakis in the Dune books. The book ends with Leto, Rhombur Vernius and Thufir Hawat talking outside Castle Caladan and about to go in to continue their training exercises.

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