Genre: Science Fiction – Space Opera
Series: Schools of Dune #3
Publisher: Tor (September 13, 2016)
Length: 416 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
Schools of Dune is the next step in the gradual evolution of the Dune universe. Where Legends of Dune chronicled the great war between humankind and the “thinking machines” while spotlighting the origins of so many of the classic elements of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, this trilogy goes even further, detailing the rise of the Bene Gesserite Sisterhood, the origins of the Mentats, the creation of the Spacing Guild, and the continued escalation in the Atreides/Harkonnen feud. All of which means that this is a book fans of Dune will find engrossing, entertaining, and a worthy addition to the sweeping Dune saga.
Shifting between numerous point of view characters, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson use this diverse cast to convey the epic, galaxy wide nature of this story, where three main factions are vying for control over the human Imperium, while still immersing readers in the individual journey of each participant. And, overall, Navigators of Dune succeeds in doing just that, weaving a wide web of political machinations and personal tragedies, which seamlessly fits into the grand Dune timeline.
On one side of the growing galactic chaos, there is the newly crowned Emperor Roderick Corrino, who finds himself thrust into an unenviable position of having his most important ally turned into an enemy. Directeur Josef Venport of the massively powerful Venport Holdings having been implicated in the assassination of Roderick’s predecessor upon the throne. The Emperor’s desire for vengeance warring with his wisdom, because he knows he needs the Navigators only Venport Holdings knows how to create in order to maintain stable interstellar commerce . . . and also because he has another enemy who might be even worse than Venport.
Roderick’s other enemy is the Bulterians. These religious fanatics having unleashed their righteous fury across the Imperium, demanding that all “evil” technology by purged from human society. Their leader Manford Toronado viewed by his crazed followers as the torchbearer for the long dead Saint Serena Butler, who led the holy crusade against the thinking machines a millennia ago. The Butlerians more than willing to riot, destroy, and use mob rule to force the powers that be to give in to their demands for Butlerian control and an inevitable return to the dark ages.
Mixed into the escalating struggle between Emperor, Venport Holdings, and the Butlerians are a host of characters, all very important and most very memorable. There is the unforgettable (and always creepy) living machine Erasmus, who first appeared in The Butlerian Jihad, continuing his quest to truly understand mankind. Draigo Roget, the leading Mentat alive, who adds and abets Erasmus in his activities. Valya Harkonnen is here, not only the current crazed Harkonnen set on vengeance against the vile Atreides, but also as the Mother Superior of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood; her vision continuing this groups transformation into the witches all Dune fans love to hate. Vorian Atreides returns, still determined to end the growing feud between these families before he looses himself in the galaxy. Even Norma Cenva, first of the navigators and their patron goddess, reappears, though she has already begun to loose touch with reality. And these are just the most prominent members of the cast.
As a long time Dune fan, I knew I would enjoy Navigators, because, well, I generally enjoy anything Dune related. And while this book wasn’t perfect (I’ll get to my criticisms in a moment.) I felt it did an excellent job of progressing the saga, tying up loose plots, and biding farewell to old characters. Herbert and Anderson able to accomplish all these things while still providing me with enough political scheming, personal duels, emotional epiphanies, space battles, and monumental revelations to keep my attention glued to the pages. But, above all else, Navigators is a complete triumph because it is a mesmerizing return to the familiar, fascinating Dune universe Frank Herbert dazzled me with decades ago.
But there was something I did not enjoy about this narrative. Specifically, I am referring to Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s constant need to reiterate the characters’ motives and purposes every time they reappeared in the story. Yes, characters would vanish from the narrative for several chapters before returning to the spotlight, but they were never gone long enough for me to forget how they felt or what they were attempting to accomplish. Honestly, there really wasn’t any need to continue to tell me why the Harkonnens hated the Atreides, or that Joseph Venport really wanted to work with, not against, Emperor Roderick, or that Manford Toronado truly believed destroying all technology was the right thing to do to save humankind. All these things were instantly in my mind as soon as I read a character’s name, because the authors had done such an excellent job explaining everything the first time around. So, instead of aiding my reading, the continued return to these issues began to feel like filler material and slowed down the momentum, as the plot raced to its cataclysmic ending.
As for whether you should read Navigators of Dune, I would loudly exclaim “Of course you should read this book!” However, I would encourage only followers of the Schools of Dune trilogy to do so now. Personally, I believe any new readers should begin their introduction to Frank Herbert’s Dune Saga by starting with the original books before picking up these prequel series. It isn’t that you won’t understand or enjoy Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s additions to the classic scifi saga, but rather that all this historical background takes some of the brilliant moodiness and classic mystery from the story of Paul Atreides, the desert planet of Arrakis, the galactic Imperium with its creepy Bene Gesserits, mutated Navigators, and all-powerful Spacing Guild as well as the violent and seemingly eternal Atreides/Harkonnen feud. And nothing should ruin a reader’s first experience with the glory of Dune, because it really is a scifi classic.
I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.