Review: Dune, Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, that’s right. I’ve never read Dune before now. Shame on me. I thought carefully, though, before starting this monster tome — 800 pp! But it’s about time I got to it.

I knew little of this story going in, just the way I wanted it. I wanted to discover the book as so many others did without knowing who lived and who died, without already seeing the end Frank Herbert envisioned for his hero.

Considering this was written forty years ago, Herbert’s depiction of an advanced civilization is intriguing. In some ways, he seemed to see the future (much as Star Trek did). I was quite excited to read a description of the mini ‘book’ Halleck gave to Paul, which seemed to be a sort of thumb drive device at first. Later I realized it was a bit more mechanical and less electronic.

The world of Dune seems based culturally on actual Middle Eastern cultures. It makes for many interesting details that must have seemed exotic for readers in 1965. Today, those same details might be considered much more loaded. I wonder if Herbert would have written the same sort of story today.

The cast of characters of the planet Arrakis is a bit large, and many are introduced early on. I didn’t have them all straight right away, but I felt I knew who and what I needed to know at the moment. The characters are intriguing and rarely predictable. I got to know them, see the many sides of them, gradually, though I quickly saw the depths to these characters ran deep.

I soon saw the potential messianic path for Paul. Time hidden in the desert while he learned, matured. Then he would emerge, “resurrected,” since so many thought him dead. Not far from how the story plays out, and yet I wouldn’t call Dune predictable by any means. Familiar, perhaps, but not predictable. The widely held suspicion that Paul’s mother was the traitor added tension on top of tension. I would not have bet she survived, but the hints of his sister allowed me to hope for her survival.

The setup was long and perhaps a tad slow, but when reading an 800-page book, you must be prepared for that. It wasn’t an unacceptable pace, and the setup did its job. The buildup to the first major plot point was incredibly tense.

Though it revealed its secrets slowly, before long the world of Dune had drawn me in. At first I was aware of the many details about this new world, learning terms with the help of the glossary (knew this book was an undertaking). But before I knew it, I was thinking about the book when I wasn’t reading and anxious to get back to it. I wanted to know more! The world certainly sucked me in!

The pace picked up as treachery revealed itself and events began to unfold. The web of connected plots, people, and power was intricate and fascinating. As I got to know the characters better, as they revealed more about themselves, I became attached to some and wished horrible deaths for others. I tried to predict who would turn against Paul or prove an ally. I wondered who would die and who would be left at the end of this sweeping story. It’s no wonder this tale was told over six books. The layers woven over layers makes for a complicated story.

One problem I had with this book was the use of omniscient point of view. It reminded me why I don’t like that POV: it feels like head-hopping. It was hard to keep straight whose head I was in at any given moment. Herbert even switched mid-paragraph at times. I guess this was true omniscient. But it was distracting.

“His voice was low, charged with unspeakable adjectives.” That tells you all you need to know–a swift death would be too good!

Herbert knew how to turn a phrase and craft a story. Dune is gripping, full of suspense and political intricacies. I can’t wait to see how the story continues.

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