the Little Red Reviewer

Heretics of Dune, by Frank Herbert

Posted on: December 8, 2014

Heretics_of_Dune_Cover_ArtHeretics of Dune (Dune #5) by Frank Herbert

published in 1984

where I got it: have owned forever











It’s been hundreds of years since the demise of the God Emperor, and his Golden Path saved humanity by forcing us out and beyond his enforced stagnation. Humanity survived the famine years, and the scattering to the winds of the galaxy, many of us went our separate ways with no knowledge that we stood on the abyss of our own extinction. Generations upon generations have passed, the Bene Gesserit are still angry, the Ixians are still manufacturing forbidden machines  and the Bene Tleilaxu are still creating Duncan Idaho gholas in their axlotl tanks. The old powers of a dying empire are not ready to let go of their traditions and beliefs. A Golden Path of survival was given to them on a platter, and yet they hesitate to take the first step.


On the dark, dank planet of Gammu, a new Duncan Idaho is being raised and trained by military genius Miles Teg, who is a tool of Bene Gesserit Sisterhood.  Teg’s mother was a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, so without even realizing it he allows Duncan to gain dangerous knowledge. Teg doesn’t know the extent of Reverend Mother Superior Taraza’s plan for this newest ghola, but his mission is to train and protect the boy, so that is what he will do. It is known that the Tleilaxu who created the ghola intend to assassinate him, as they have the eleven Duncan Idahos before him.


And on Rakis, a girl named Sheeana can control the great sandworms. The local priests take Sheeana in, but other than nearly deifying her, no one quite knows what to do with her.  The worms are not sentient, but each one carries a pearl of the God Emperor’s awareness, and they still seem to remember signs that humans can read. Upon Reverend Mother Odrade’s arrival, Sheeana comes to understand there is a force on this planet that even she can not control.


To complicate matters, descendants of those who left the empire during the famine times and the scattering have been returning. Honored Matres who control through sexual manipulation, members of old religions who have new beliefs and strange customs. Those of the scattering see the Old Empire as an easy conquest.

As always, the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood has their hands in everything. What they consider a benevolent manipulation that guarantees the survival of humanity, much of humanity has interpreted as genetic control and the theft of their children.  And that is what Heretics is about, at it’s core: control.


Within the empire, it’s come down to the Tleilaxu and the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood.  It’s amazing, that after all these eons, these two groups have kept so many secrets from each other. I’ve got to give it to the Tleilaxu, they never bent to the whims of the sisterhood, never gave up their daughters to be trained at a sisterhood school, to later be matched with a sisterhood approved spouse, to later tell all their family’s secrets to their “sisters”. Being under that kind of pressure can not be easy. They both want something from the other, they both have something of value to trade.  The Sisterhood has the secrets of immortality through shared memories of Reverend Mothers, they hold the genealogy of the Empire in their secret Chapterhouse. The Tleilaxu hold the secret of genetic engineering of shapeshifters, of the design of gholas. They have even discovered how to make melange in their axlotl talks!


With the violent and conquest-obsessed Honored Matres at their door, is it time for a bargain between the Sisterhood and the Tleilaxu?


Remember what I said about control?  The trick with being in control of a situation is to never be the center of attention.  But to have others beholden to you, to have them do your  bidding, to have them believe all along it was their idea.  The God Emperor controlled overtly and obviously.  The Bene Gesserit and the Bene Tleilax have always used other, more subtle means.  Much of the plot of Heretics of Dune revolves around getting information without giving anything up. Second guesses and hunches, and quick thinking abound.


The first four books of the series are all told from the point of view of an Atreides, so it was interesting to see the empire and what it has become from someone else’s point of view.  Much of the story is told from Taraza and Odrade’s POV, and while I enjoyed learning more about the sisterhood, I just didn’t find them very interesting as characters.  We’re given the impression that Sheeana is Very Important, but as the story progresses, we see less and less of her. Even after he regains his memories, Duncan is still diminished to the character of a frustrated teenager.  Miles Teg was the only character I found myself caring about, he’s got a fully developed backstory, an interesting life, and his allies seem to genuinely care about him as a human being. Because people genuinely cared about him, I cared too.


So far, this is my least favorite Dune book.  On the one hand, I enjoyed the “dancing around each other” done by the Bene Gesserit and the Tleilaxu, and Face Dancers are always a lot of fun. Everyone gets a chance to do some manipulative maneuvering, and Teg gets a chance to do something no one has done for 3500 years (or that no one has admitted to). But the pacing is choppy, and the writing is simply sub-par and uninspired compared to the earlier books in the series.  By the time the climactic scenes came along, I was nearly ready to give up because I just did not care.  The book does end on a cliffhanger, so I guess there’s no avoiding Chapterhouse.


7 Responses to "Heretics of Dune, by Frank Herbert"

I gave up on the Dune series after God Emperor. The first four books seemed like they were following the same plot (hero of one book was the villain of the next). So I never read this one and it sounds like I made the right choice.


“hero of one book was the villain of the next”
I never thought about it that way. The first four are my favorite, after that they just get weird.


I’ve always heard that the Dune novels’ quality becomes less the longer you stick with the series. I’ve tried to get through the original trilogy and honestly couldn’t find much I liked after the first installment.


not sure I’d use the phrase “quality becomes less”, but the plots and points of view change drastically, sometimes following less interesting plot lines & characters. Once the story stops being about the Atreides, my interest plummets.

I can’t blame anyone who stops after the first installment, I love Ender’s Game to pieces, but have never felt any interest in reading further in that series.


I’ve had a hard time wanting to read any beyond Dune, because I like it so much and what little I’ve read about the plots of the books that follow, I’m not particularly keen on.


I actually really liked this one a lot, more than God Emperor but less than Children.

Also, be warned: I had to stop reading Chapterhouse when I hit the line of dialogue “Oh Duncan, sexual collision!”


The problem lies in the simple fact that as the Dune series progressed, the books became more talky and less action. In Heretics, there is an excessive amount of lengthy conversations laced with paragraph sized thought balloons. Most of these thoughts were based on what it was thought the person was actually saying in comparison to what they were saying. Along with this, there were gratuitous verbose descriptions of facial expressions and body language. Herbert seemed to have the need to point out every furrowed brow, curled lip, or slightly fluttered eye. This gets tedious when you have an almost entire cast of characters who have the same training as human lie detectors. There was a lack of ordinary characters who didn’t have Mentat or Bene Gesserit training and could have conversations without the mental chess/poker game and whose words can be taken at face value without subtext or subterfuge. It’s hard to have a big reveal when you are privy to the thoughts of all the characters. As in the first book, Dune stories work better when you have one central main character (Like Paul) through whom you see everyone else.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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