These thoughts are SPOILER FREE until the warning.
After recently completing my annual re-reading of Frank Herbert’s Dune series and compiling my list of memorable quotes, I was not quite ready to leave that universe behind. I wanted more following the cliffhanger ending to Chapterhouse: Dune, and to get it I picked up two books titled Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune. These books are part of what I like to call the “Expanded Dune-iverse” that was written by Brian Herbert, Frank’s son, and Kevin J. Anderson. The novels that comprise the expanded Dune-iverse were all based on notes that Frank Herbert left behind. I was fortunate enough to hear the two authors discuss how this all came together a few years back, and it was truly a labor of love.
Their dedication to the source material really does pay off and gives their novels a greater sense of purpose and continuity than exists in some other expanded universes (cough Star Wars cough) even if these books don’t quite live up to the original series. I have read all of these novels before, but only once; however, as I mentioned, I wanted more time in the world so I chose to reread Hunters and Sandworms for the first time in years. While the story they tell is exciting and entertaining enough to make the journey fun, the original novels set my expectations quite high and these books are not quite on the same level for me. Without being nitpicky, there are a few key things that contributed to this feeling.
Perhaps the thing that most influenced my feelings on these books is the pacing. Where the original series had long, dense chapters the newer books move along much more quickly. Short chapters (often just a few pages) progress the action very rapidly and bounce the reader along between multiple characters and locations more frequently than one might like. As a result of this the places and characters don’t feel as developed as in the originals. It almost feels like the authors rushed to cover a lot of ground and only had time to briefly touch upon certain things to check them off a list in getting to the end.
The writing is also not as eloquent as the originals. There were a few elements that came off sounding bad. Stuff like the “Final” Kwisatz Haderach, “ultra” spice, and numerous adjectives consistently attached to the already hyperbolic “struggle at the end of the universe” seemed to overdo things a bit, especially since they are used fairly frequently. The authors also seem to feel the need to remind us of certain plot points ad nauseam. The original series really did a great job creating a distinct atmosphere in each book, in particular one of desperation that over the reader in Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse, but these expanded books more often tell us how the characters are feeling rather than involve the reader with that feeling. Where the original novels really built up these moods, Hunters and Sandworms are not nearly as subtle.
Finally, these books do not really feel like the ending to “Frank Herbert’s Dune” but rather the ending to Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s Dune. There is a lot in these books that would only make sense to a reader that has read the two prequel trilogies released prior to these books, and we’re not just talking minor references; two or three HUGE plot elements are derived entirely from those six books and in some places they prioritize the prequel stories over the original material. That is a lot of backstory just to pick up what is supposedly the next book in line following Chapterhouse. I’m not saying they’re way off base from what the seventh Dune novel would have been (they have access to notes I never will), it’s just that the heavy reliance of the prequel materials makes me more consciously think about what would have been, especially given the stylistic discrepancies. More after the break.
SPOILERS AND CONCLUSIONS FOLLOW THE BREAK.