Heretics of Dune (Frank Herbert)
Heretics of Dune is the fifth book in the popular Dune series, taking place one thousand, five hundred years after the events of the previous novel, God Emperor of Dune. Like its predecessor, it eliminates nearly all of the cast from the previous novel, and, more importantly, marks another disappointment for the series. Due to a stagnant plot, tiresome writing with little in the way of positive elements, and a terribly bland collection of characters, Heretics is easily the worst book in the series thus far.
The book focuses mainly on the struggle between the Bene Gesserit and the Honored Matres, a people returning from the scattering that was crucial to the success of Leto II's Golden Path. The book goes through the expected twists and turns, with plenty of ominous build up and very little in the way of actual payoff. This lack of excitement, along with the horrendous pacing, is the most critical issue facing the book's plotting. There is a decent story within the pages of Heretics of Dune, it just takes so long, and meanders so much, that by the time anything happens, the reader is out of patience and uninterested. The book spends a lot of time going no where fast in terms of the story, then tries to make up for it by cramming nearly every important event into the final one hundred pages or so. The long build up with nothing to break up scene after scene of plotting, exposition, and tame debate results in a conclusion that fails to impress. This same formula has been used to some success in the previous four books, but it lacks the same punch here, due in part to the awful characters that fill the pages of Heretics.
My biggest problem with the book, besides the glacial pacing, is the utter lack of sympathetic characters. The cast here is almost superhuman in their motives, and utterly impossible to comprehend due to this fact. I don't really understand the Bene Gesserit's motives at all, and their opponents and competitors are even less clear. Very little about why they do what they do is added, or why certain characters behave certain ways, the plot seems to completely drive the characters. Duncan ends up with the same laughable sub plot that he has had for the last three books: learning that he is a clone, awakening his ancestral memories, and defying everyone. It is utterly ridiculous that the character has been played out for this long, especially considering his character just gets less interesting every time he pops up only to do the exact same stuff. The only character I had any sympathy for was Miles Teg, the former Bashar (a military commander) entrusted with the safety and teaching of Duncan. Teg is kind of boring early on, but comes into his own at the books halfway point, culminating in some of the few decent fight scenes the book has to offer and a nicely done segment where we learn about the respect his former soldiers have for him. Despite Teg's strong values, the cast of Heretics is an immense disappointment. The central characters evoke no emotion whatsoever, the antagonists are nothing special, and Duncan's progression was a waste of time.
The writing is completely dull, more so even than in the previous novels. Herbert relies a bit more on subtlety and indirect wording than I would prefer, but it certainly does make one think, especially where plot and character motivations are concerned. Sure it falls on its face because those two things are sorely missing, but what really kills me is the incredibly bland way even the most emotionally charged scenes are written. A sequence in which the titular Dune, a major presence in every single novel to this point and arguably the most important player in the series, suffers a major catastrophe that gets about a paragraph of uninspired writing to commemorate the event. It is a terrible travesty, and this momentous event feels more like an afterthought as a result. The fight scenes are play by play, simplistic, and emotionless, especially when contrasted with the exceedingly difficult to decipher plotting, which often tries to be too clever for its own good. Additionally, the dialogue is stiff and hollow, failing to bring to life the bad characters and emphasizing the importance of the plot over emotional depth for the cast.
World building has always been a major element of the Dune novels, and though it is a subdued presence in Heretics, it still does an adequate job of filling out the world, it just doesn't captivate and intrigue in the way that earlier novels did. Since the book is set much later in the timeline, naturally much has changed in the Dune universe. The book doesn't feature a ton of exposition passages, instead working in some hints and allusions in what is the book's strong suit where writing is concerned. Much of the appeal concerns what happened to old digs, such as Arrakis and Giedi Prime, and catching up with the universe at large, but it is also interesting to see the new technology at work. It isn't as awe inspiring as in the original Dune, but it certainly gets the job done.
Words cannot express the disappointment that was Heretics of Dune. The Dune books have presented diminishing returns thus far, with each successive novel being progressively worse than the one it followed, but Heretics is on a totally different level. Devoid of compelling characters or an exciting plot, only the most hardcore Dune fans will enjoy this novel.