Book Review of Dune: House Harkonnen

The prequels to Frank Herbert’s Dune, conceived as a trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, continue in the second book entitled Dune: House Harkonnen. As in the first book, Dune: House Atreides, the authors begin to answer some of the questions and fill in some of the gaps left in the Dune saga, which some thought ended with the death of Frank Herbert. However, as shown in Dune: House Atreides, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson are able to advance the story of Dune in a seamless style that captures the reader’s imagination and leaves one with the desire for more.

In this second installment, Dune: House Harkonnen, the reader gains quite unpleasant insights into the psychology of the Harkonnen family. The only members of the family with any humanity, Abulurd Harkonnen and his beloved wife Emmi, cannot escape the brutality and depravity of their son Glossu Rabban and Abulurd’s half-brother, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. The Baron and his nephew seek not only revenge upon their own flesh and blood but also upon House Atreides and Duke Leto, with devastating results. As we follow the Baron and the na-Baron in their heinous and bloodthirsty quest to quench their thirst for ever more power and wealth, we are given insights into the family dynamics and begin to have a little understanding of the reasons for the Baron’s violent and vicious temperament.

Even as we are thrown into the world of the Harkonnens, we also are shown the machinations of the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV as his plans to gain power over CHOAM, the Spacing Guild, and the Bene Gesserit proceed. It is brought home throughout the Dune saga that “he who controls the spice controls the world,” and the plan set in motion in Dune: House Atreides by Elrood IX to have the Bene Tleilaxu create a synthetic spice is continued by Shaddam. However, as C’tair Pilru continues his efforts to harass the Tleilaxu who occupy his home world of Ix, we discover just how high the price is for this creation.

Back on Caladan, Duke Leto is, unknown to him or his household, still the target of the wrath of the Harkonnens. The subtle means used to attack the Duke come through the manipulation of his concubine Kailea, daughter of Earl Dominic Vernius of Ix. As Kailea falls prey to the plan set in motion by Baron Harkonnen, a wedge is driven between her and Leto, leaving the door open for the young Jessica, who is brought to the Duke by the Bene Gesserit sisters as they push forward their plans for the eventual birth of the Kwisatz Haderach. Yet Leto resists the urge to dismiss Kailea, because of their son Victor, which actually only aggravates the situation.

In Dune: House Harkonnen, we also learn how Duncan Idaho gains his status as a Swordmaster of Ginaz and how a feud between two other houses draws him and House Atreides into the politics of the Imperium, which threatens Shaddam’s power and control of the “known Universe.” In addition, we meet Gurney Halleck and discover the source of his deep-seated hatred of the Harkonnens.

As always, the Fremen of Dune, though isolated from the Imperium at large, have their own plans – plans that will eventually impact the entire universe. Liet-Kynes, son of the Imperial Planetologist Pardot Kynes, also begins his own journey of discovery, which will eventually put him on a collision course with Shaddam.

In Dune: House Harkonnen, the “feint within a feint within a feint” continues as the rebel forces on Ix and Dune continue their efforts against the brutality of Shaddam and the Harkonnens. In addition, House Atreides begins to make moves that will later bring them into the position of being a major player in the power struggles that are taking place in various corners of the universe as created by Frank Herbert and upon which his son Brian Herbert and the science-fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson have continued to build. This book, as was Dune: House Atreides, is a very satisfying prequel to the original Dune saga.

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