Book Review: Dune
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
This review contains some spoilers (but not enough to make you shake angry fists at me if you haven’t read it).
Content Warning: Please note this book contains pedophilia. Enough that if this is a trigger for you, I would not recommend this book. This review does not discuss this, because ugh.
The Dune saga is expansive. Frank Herbert wrote six Dune novels between 1965-1985 before passing away in 1986. His son Brian Herbert then co-authored a prequel series with sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson comprising of 16 novels. Along with a comic book series, a collection of short stories (by Herbert Jr and Anderson), two television series, and two movies (one due out later this year), Dune is a huge franchise. This book review will only cover the first book, Dune.
Look at many Science Fiction top ten lists and you’ll find Herbert’s Dune. Long story short, you won’t find it on mine.
It’s hard to describe Dune’s dizzying plot and long line of characters, but here goes...
Our main character Paul Atreides is special. We know this because he puts his hand in a special box and doesn’t die. The all-female cult who put his hand in the box tells us he is special. This book takes the ‘Chosen One’ trope to its extremes, and in my opinion it’s too much.
Paul’s Father Leto rules a gnarly ocean planet, but then gets sent to rule a waterless planet called Arrakis to manage the harvesting of melange. Melange is an extremely expensive spice, and the rarest substance in the universe. The only problem is it’s protected by, I shit you not, giant worms.
This is my first problem with the book, and it’s personal. I truly despise worms and have had a phobia of them from the womb. At the same time, I find the idea of giant worms being scary to most people oddly amusing. They are deadly, and they are also ridden by the Freman, the indigenous population of Arrakis. Fuck. That. If giant worms and riding them sounds like fun to you, you might like this book. It’s not for me.
Anyway, House Harkonnen doesn’t like that the Atreides are becoming more powerful, so they join up with the Emporer and kill Leto. Paul and his mother are presumed dead in the ensuing fight, but they escape into the dry hell of Arrakis. This leaves them at the mercy of the planet and its giant worms and savage natives. Turns out they’re not savage, just sick of being colonised (girl, same). Paul and Jessica live with the Fremans, and Paul’s special powers show them he is their ‘Chosen One’ too, and he’s given a new name, Muad'Dib. Just kidding, he’s given TWO names, the second one being Usul. So now he’s the ‘Chosen One’ of two different groups (Harry Potter ain’t got shit on Paul). If indigenous people turning out to be the good guys is for you, you might like this book. Alternatively, watch Avatar or Pocahontas (just kidding, portraying any group of people as savage sucks).
Eventually, after much unnecessary politicking by the other houses and weird spice-infused drug and poison water magic on Arrakis, we get the climax. Where, wait for it, the ‘Chosen One’ triumphs. Phew, I did not see that one coming!
One thing I did like about Dune was the idea of the personal shields. Guns are useless against these shields, as the speed they hit the shield causes a nuclear explosion, killing both the shooter and the shield wearer. This means that sword/knife fighting have become the main form of combat. To penetrate the shield, the combatant must strike their enemy slowly. I found this concept interesting and original. It also made the stakes higher during fights, harking back to classic medieval fantasy.
This book has a lot of characters. Some belong to the different houses, some are Fremans, and some are from the Atreides’ Court. Fun fact, there are over 120 different major houses mentioned during the entire Dune saga. That is about 100 houses too many. If the amount of characters and houses in A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) was hard for you to follow, then this book probably isn’t for you.
The main characters we do get are one dimensional. Almost every single one of them. Don’t get me wrong, Paul has an impressive character arc, but holy shit is he boring. Also, he fits perfectly into the ‘White Saviour’ trope, saving the indigenous people because they cannot save themselves and have been waiting for him to arrive. As an indigenous woman, I do not appreciate this trope. I especially do not appreciate that he is just given a woman as a wife because he murdered her husband, and she just goes along with it. Freman culture, apparently. All I can say is (not very eloquently) boooooooooo.
I don’t recall a single person cracking a joke in this book. The evil people are evil because they want power. Fine, that makes sense, but couldn’t one person in this book have a personality? The most interesting character is Leto’s personal physician Wellington Yueh. His character at least has some tangled emotions about his actions, but he’s gone before the first act ends.
Ok, I’m going to confess something here and now, I originally DNF’d hard on this book. I only made it through a few chapters before firmly putting it in the “not for me” category. A huge reason for this was not being able to pronounce any of the names in my head (Atriedes is a prime example). This made it confusing to keep up with who was who and made me feel stupid (I’m not stupid). The real boon of the audio book is that you finally know how everything is pronounced. It meant I could concentrate on the story and not trying to get my head around pronunciation.
A few years later I started listening to audio books. This is when I finally got through Dune. Although, as the Audible reviews will attest, it’s not the greatest of audio books. There’s a cast and a narrator, and it can be confusing which character is speaking. In some scenes, the voice for a character will change three times. This can be very jarring, and it took me out of the story.
This book is for you if:
- Epic fantasies are your thing. If you like LOTR, you’ll probably like this. If you’re a bit iffy because it’s Sci-Fi and that’s not really your thing, I’d say it’s more fantasy, so you shouldn’t disregard it.
- You have a degree in linguistics. You’ll find the names and pronunciations fascinating. Besides Paul and Jessica, weirdly the only two normal names in the book.
- You’ve watched the 1984 movie and you liked it (it has Sir Patrick Stewart in it, I can't blame you). The book is better.
- You really want to know what all the fuss is all about. If you end up liking it, that’s great. If you dislike it, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
This might not be for you if:
- The trigger warning at the beginning of this review applies to you. Seriously, don’t.
- Game of Thrones had too many characters for you to follow. Dune is Thrones on steroids.
- You didn’t like LOTR. This book is just as descriptive but thankfully doesn’t have the songs.
- You read this review and the plot doesn’t sound like your thing. Seriously, don’t waste your time.
TL;DR Dune is an epic science fiction fantasy that’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s expansive worldbuilding and cast of characters can make this book hard to follow, and personally made it a boring read for me. I would only recommend this to people who feel the need to read “the classics”.
Let me know in the comments what you think of Dune.
DNF – Did not finish
LOTR – Lord of the Rings
TL;DR – Too long; didn’t read