Heretics of Dune is the fifth book in the Dune saga written by Frank Herbert and was first published in 1984, a full 19 years after the first book simply titled Dune. The fourth book, God Emperor of Dune, represented a notable change in the events of the saga both for the initial 3500 years jump from the finale of the previous Children of Dune, and for the focus on a single non-human character like Leto II.
Heretics of Dune did something similar, taking place 1500 years after the death of Leto II and with an almost total change of register. Herbert introduced here many new characters who have a very vague relationship with those of the previous books (they all have Atreides and Corrino blood, but after so many years does it really matter?), in addition to the inevitable ghola of Duncan Idaho. To be honest, I find this recurring character tiresome by now.
Let me briefly summarize the plot, before making a concise judgment of my reading experience. The sandworms born from the body of Leto II have returned to Arrakis (now called Rakis), and there’s a girl, Sheeana, who is able to command them. The Bene Gesserit led by Taraza want to use a Duncan Idaho ghola prepared by the Bene Tleilaxu to control Sheeana, but they don’t know that this ghola is hiding a secret. The Bene Tleilaxu also discovered a way to make spice without using Rakis’s sandworms. In the meantime, the part of humanity which started colonizing the rest of the universe after the death of Leto II, is coming back, and it’s led by the Honored Matres, a sort of alternative Bene Gesserit who exert their power through sex. In all this, the famous Golden Path created by Leto II is mentioned, but once again it remains a mystery what it is.
If this summary has not caught your attention, it’s certainly my fault, because unfortunately the whole book has failed to interest me even minimally. I understand what Herbert tried to do with Heretics of Dune: to relaunch the saga with new factions and characters, while maintaining a connection with what had come before. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there is a huge difference between the story of the Atreides and the emperor’s betrayal on the sandy planet of Dune populated by Fremen and sandworms with their spice (see Dune and Dune Messiah), and this silent war between various factions in which nothing is explicitly said and no character is capable of capturing the imagination of the readers. Also, none of the planets visited by the protagonists of the story is worthy of being remembered.
I cannot exclude that the fatigue of reading God Emperor of Dune has played a role in my experience as a reader of this fifth book, and I admit I have the impression that my journey through the Frank Herbert saga is only getting worse. The main problem with Heretics, in my opinion, is that the story is deliberately confused. Herbert only hints at what happened after the death of Leto II, keeping the motivations of most of the characters secret, and everything is expressed in a specific vocabulary that unfortunately differs from the one we were used to in the first books of the saga.
Plus, the ending of the book doesn’t have the strength of the previous ones, which were all (without exception!) extremely successful in terms of tension and revelations. Here… Let’s talk about the key revelation of the book. From the beginning there’s a lot of talk about sex, comparing the silent control system of the Bene Gesserit with the more vulgar one of the Honored Matres based, precisely, on sex. Don’t ask me how or why. And, from the start, it’s revealed that the latest Duncan Idaho ghola made by the Bene Tleilaxu is different from the others. Well, twenty pages from the end of the book we finally understand why: while having sex with a Honored Matre, he manages to respond to her sexual control by controlling her in turn in an orgasmic triumph. Ok… Sorry, but I didn’t understand the importance of this thing or what its consequences are on the story, on the characters, and on the elusive Golden Path.
I was truly disappointed by Heretics of Dune. Sure, there are some more inspired parts, but they’re few and they have nothing to do with history. For example, I liked a sentence like: “If we cannot adjust our differences peacefully we are less than human.“ And the following passage reminded me of the theses of the excellent book Sapiens regarding the importance of beliefs in the history of humanity and the power of large groups of people believing in the same thing: “Your beliefs order the unfolding of daily events. If enough of us believe, a new thing can be made to exist. Belief structure creates a filter through which chaos is sifted into order.“
But, in general, all this attention to sexual energy and its relationship with the climate of the various planets of the universe didn’t seem to me a strong enough theme to support a book that I didn’t find very inspired, which has little rhythm, and never really reaches an actual climax. Pity. Ciao!