Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson,
Sisterhood of Dune
(Tor, 2012)

In 1965, Frank Herbert published his masterpiece, Dune, an epic ecological science-fiction/fantasy novel, followed by five sequels. He began a seventh Dune novel but did not complete it. His son, Brian Herbert, together with Kevin J. Anderson, has donned his father's mantle by writing prequels and sequels to the series. Sisterhood of Dune is a prequel to Dune.

Dune and its sequels told the story of humankind thousands of years into the future. Earth has been left behind, with thousands of planets now populated throughout the universe. Many different groups vie for power, and computers have been outlawed and eradicated.

In Dune and its Frank Herbert sequels, one powerful group was the Bene Gesserit, a group of women who had learned to control their own bodies completely, to the point they could ingest poisons and neutralize them internally. They also held the memories of all their female ancestors. With the title of this book, I expected it to be about the history of the Bene Gesserit. We certainly get some of that, but it is just one piece of this book.

We also get equal amounts of the history of several other major groups present in the original Dune books. This includes the Spacing Guild, the origins of Ix and the Bene Tleilaxu, House Corrino, the Suk School of Medicine, the Butlerians and the Mentats. Besides these groups, there is a great story-line about Vorian Atreides, his history, his relationship to the Imperium and his experience on Arrakis, the planet also known as Dune.

Do Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson match Frank Herbert in quality? No, but they are quite good. This book is populated by a large cast of interesting, credible, three-dimensional characters, although they do not evolve much -- except, that is, for the Vorian Atreides character. The pacing is good, and the tactic of alternating storylines each chapter keeps the suspense level up and maintains the reader's interest. Plot complexity is not up to that of Frank Herbert's, but is close. There were a few instances where word-choice was not optimal, but not enough to down-rate the book overall.

The authors carried on Herbert Sr.'s tradition of the different groups having secrets. What doesn't the royal family want everyone to know about Anna? What does the Sisterhood not want the royal family to know about Anna? The Butlerians think that everyone is hiding forbidden technology; sometimes they are just paranoid, but sometimes they are right. What dirty secret is the Mentat school hiding?

Dune purists might find points to dispute in this book, but series enthusiasts will likely love it. This is not the book to start with, if you know nothing of the Dune universe. For beginners, either start with the first prequel by these same authors or with Frank Herbert's original book, Dune.

book review by
Chris McCallister

3 March 2012

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