Book Review: Dune: The Duke of Caladan

Written by Daniel Matters

Whether it’s Brandon Sanderson finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, or Gregory Maguire’s Wicked giving the reader an alternative view of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, it has become a trend for many authors to turn their own hand at expanding on the works of those who came before. Sometimes however, like Christopher Tolkien, it is also a child carrying on the work of their parent. Though building on the works of other authors can be hit and miss, I have found that Brian Herbert (son of Dune author Frank Herbert) and sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson have shown over the past two decades that they have a true understanding of the Dune series.

The original Dune trilogy by Frank Herbert is a deep and complex sci-fi series set in the far future. It follows young Paul Atreides, the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides, as he and his family move to the desert planet of Arrakis and are drawn into a conflict that will change the fate of humanity. Frank Herbert then went on to write a sequel trilogy before passing away. 

Since then, Herbert & Anderson have worked together on multiple novels within the Dune universe, fleshing out past events in Dune’s history and expanding the understanding of important characters and organisations. However, Herbert & Anderson’s new novel, Dune: The Duke of Caladan, is more than just a means to expand the Dune universe, but rather an expansion on the narrative—acting as the first novel of the Caladan trilogy.  Meant to serve as a direct prequel series to the original Dune trilogy, the Caladan trilogy focuses on Paul, Duke Leto and Jessica, and the events that led up to the beginning of the original Dune

Dune: The Duke of Caladan focuses primarily on House Atreides and its titular Duke Leto as he is caught in a web of political intrigue that not only effects his home planet of Caladan, but the wider galactic imperium. Torn between his responsibilities to the Emperor and his planet, as well as his responsibilities to his family and his role as Duke, Leto Atreides must choose the right path for himself, his people and those he loves.

Herbert & Anderson show masterful control over the multiple threads of the book’s plots by showing the reader many different perspectives through a unique cast of characters. Some are familiar to Dune fans, such as Leto’s wife Lady Jessica and their son Paul Atreides (the main character in the original Dune), while other are new, such as Malina Aru and her son Jaxon. This style of storytelling works to deepen the book’s political intrigue while keeping the reader entertained and engaged. Overall, the story feels much like a sci-fi version of Game of Thrones, bouncing between distance, people, and locations to show the effects of one character’s decision on the deep political system of the Imperium, and the grasps for power by the Great Houses of the Landsraad.  

For anyone new to the Dune universe, Dune: The Duke of Caladan is an excellent place to start. Herbert and Anderson’s crisp prose is easy to follow and does just the right amount of world building so that newcomers who have never read any other books in the Dune series are eased into the interconnected politics of the planets within the Imperium, and its many organisations and structures. 

Older fans will be happy to find that they are not oversaturated by Herbert and Anderson with information they already possess. As mentioned, accommodations are made for new readers to get them into the world, but for older fans it is more like a wonderful reunion with old friends, rather than a boring slog re-reading old ground. Still, there is one concern for those returning to the series: the pay off. Though Dune: The Duke of Caladan works wonderfully as a Dune book and a sci-fi novel on its own, the story being focused on characters from the original Dune means many of the risks and twists fall somewhat flat. Being a prequel, and knowing the fates of Duke Leto, his family and his planet at the start of the original Dune, certain dangers and challenges Leto faces hold nowhere near the same tension for old fans as they will for newcomers. 

Ultimately as a fan of the Dune series myself, I sadly fall into this camp. Though the story was engaging and offered a truly new and unique insight into the lives of some of my favourite characters, when Herbert and Anderson put them through danger and pain, I didn’t fear for them because I knew that in the end they will be okay. Still, I found myself unable to put the book down. Though I know what fate awaited Leto, Jessica and Paul, the journey to the start of the original Dune is unknown and it is the discovery of that journey that makes it a worthy addition to the greater narrative of Dune.

Regardless of your experience with the Dune series, Dune: The Duke of Caladan offers an exciting political thriller whose sci-fi world is so rich and detailed it is hard to not get drawn in. It is a wonderful expansion on the work of Frank Herbert and continues to hold the themes of honour, family and loyalty at its core—a great start to the new trilogy even if old fans know where the story is headed.

Originally set to coincide with the major film adaption of the novel Dune directed by Denis Villeneuve (which was pushed back to this year due to the COVID-19 crisis), Dune: The Duke of Caladan was released on 13 October 2020 and is available to purchase here.

Daniel Matters is a second-year Creative Writing Student at Deakin University. Besides study, he spends all of his time writing, having published three pieces last year. He is also an avid reader with a particular weakness for epic fantasy and detective fiction. 

Daniel’s work has appeared in the Discord edition of WORDLY Magazine.

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