Just a few weeks ago it looked like we might see the Dune movie release in December. With the first trailer released and the hype ramping up I was all set. Sadly, Covid-19 once again threw a spanner into everybody’s face. With most countries once again in some sort of lockdown cinema attendance is at a level that caused most movie releases to be delayed until 2021. So is Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. However, much of the tie-in media is being released. I wrote a review of the first issue of the comic adaptation of House Atreides a few days ago. Today I will be covering Dune: The Duke of Caladan. This is the first novel in the Caladan trilogy written by Brian Herbert and his longstanding co-author Kevin J. Anderson. Together they have added nearly twenty novels to the Dune universe, besides the six written by Brian’s father Frank Herbert.
With the movie delayed until October 1st of 2021 I became excited by this novel. Set about a year before the events of the original novel it might shed light on certain events. All this excitement made me forget that the two authors have depicted events in other novels that I believe stand in contradiction to Frank Herbert’s original story. Not to mention that their expanded Dune universe has not reached the thematic depth of the original six novels. Most fans do like these novels but agree Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have not even tried to replicate the thematic style that mixes politics, religion, sociology and climatology. Perhaps they felt they could never succeed and thus should never try. But they could also have written few novels. With The Duke of Caladan the authors are obligated, more so than usual, to stick to an orthodox telling of events.
The story of The Duke of Caladan
In The Duke of Caladan we read how Duke Leto is once again thrust into Imperial politics. After an attack by disgruntled members CHOAM Emperor Shaddam IV has once again managed to get himself into trouble through overbearing action. In this novel Shaddam is depicted as somewhat wizened and thoughtful, not unlike the original novel. Yet, his decision making leaves much to be desired as he continuously believes a show of force is necessary. Meanwhile Paul Atreides continues his studies under the tutelage of his mother Jessica as well Duncan Idaho and Thufir Hawatt. After the attack has left a number of noble houses without leadership Duke Leto start to consider a match between his son and another noble house. This eventually brings the specter to the feast, the Bene Gesserit, who recruit Jessica to ensure none of the matches goes against their 10.000 year breeding program.
Perhaps the saving grace of The Duke of Caladan are the very personal stories. The authors proof that a great deal of thought has gone into the various storylines to make them as interesting as possible without directly contravening anything from the 1965 novel. Though that latter also ensures the story kind-off meanders around. The authors settled on a three-way standoff between Duke Leto, Paul and Jessica with regards to the future of House Atreides. It feels as though the rest of the plot was just tacked on. The small excursions that involve Gaius Helen Mohiam, Emperor Shaddam IV or Baron Harkonnen are a delight. But they are also too few in numbers. With so many characters and factions it is odd to say but I feel that a little bit of the original novel has none the less crept into this story. Even if it is by accident.
Conclusion and final words
While I enjoyed reading The Duke of Caladan it did feel as though there was something missing. The authors managed to write their own Dune universe with politics and backstabbing. Yet, despite set little more than a year before the events of the original novel I did not feel much of a connection. I was not captivated by events. The strong emphasis on characters comes at the cost of the plot which is too slow. The authors have at the same time not made any attempts at recreating deep thematic meaning to the story. Dune: The Duke of Caladan reads like every single one of the novels they have written in the last twenty years starting with House Atreides. And so while I enjoyed reading the novel it also felt pointless and superfluous. I did not get a deeper understanding of the original Dune novel.
And so the first novel of the Caladan series invokes contradictory feelings. For readers of previous novels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson all I can say is that this is one of their best. As die-hard Dune fans you know what you will be getting. For those new to the franchise I do not think you should read this novel before reading the original from 1965. There are too many prior events that won’t make much sense. I expected the authors to keep to a yearly schedule, thus ensuring a release date for The Lady of Caladan somewhere around October 2021. Just in time for the Dune movie!