Top critical review
Kralizec, Arafel, Armageddon, Ragnarok—by any name, the darkness at the end of the universe.
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on April 7, 2022
Two or three stars. Two and a half I guess. On its own, separate from the Dune Saga, it might be a three-star book. Compared to the other books in its series however, it is decidedly a two-star book. Which is funny, actually, because the very fact that it is a Dune book makes me want to push it up to three stars just because it is the continuation of something I deeply love. Bah.
Anyhow. My "history", so to speak, with Brian Herbert, is as long and storied as any other long-time Dune fan's. He is a creeping shadow; the slayer of the Dune Encyclopedia; the seizer of rights; the "finder of the notes"; the retcon rascal... There is plenty to criticize here—or at the very least raise your eyebrows at—but I suppose this isn't the place to do so; at least when it comes to the things that exist outside the text. At the end of the day, it's Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson who steer this ship now. And because the idea of more Dune has always had an undeniable appeal to me—and even more so because I have a slew of friends who have recently, lovingly, joined me in the fandom of this universe—I felt that it was finally time that I give Brian a chance. I made the attempt with as open a mind as I could bear, and I believe I was largely successful.
Now, there are some slightly spoilerish things that I want to say about Hunters of Dune, and those things consist largely of my main complaint about how this book ends, and the direction in which Brian and Kevin have taken the saga, so I think I'll leave that for the end. As for the rest of it...
The writing is, unfortunately, amateurish. It is a shadow of the mind-expanding prose that Frank wielded as a matter of course, and to any fan of the saga I think it's intensely noticeable. Brian holds the reader's hand; Frank never did. Brian talks down to the reader; Frank never did. It lacks the cerebral playgrounds that Frank seemed to access so easily. It lacks the introspection. There are near-constant issues when it comes to the "show don't tell" rule, and the book itself is very bloated. You can tell they split it into two books but didn't really have two books worth of material. The character work is poor. The dialogue is weak. Even previously-established strong characters feel flat here. Dune always felt vast, an enormous universe full of nuance and history. Brian somehow manages to make it feel small. And lastly, something that irked me specifically, there are certain things that don't need to be revealed. There is value to the unknown in a large series like this, which Frank understood. Brian seems to think that every hole must be filled; every question answered.
This does all feel a bit harsh, you know. Is it fair to compare Brian's work to Frank's? Probably not. Can I do otherwise? No! This is Dune! This is what he signed up for.
All of this aside... And it's a lot to put aside... But all of this aside, I cannot deny that it felt very exciting to continue the story of Dune. To jump back in after the events in Chapterhouse and continue this strange tale. So Brian can't measure up to his father, fine. Acceptance of that fact led to a relatively enjoyable reading experience. I mean, I finished the thing, and I'm going to read the next one. So there you go. And there's no denying that the return of legendary figures of Dune is, simply put, awesome. It's certainly something that Frank was, if not leading toward, at least hinting at in his last two books. Does it feel like fan service? Yes. Will I ever know if this is truly what Frank planned? No. And seeing as how that's an enormous can of worms in and of itself, I decided to just take it as it comes.
Now, for my comments that I referenced above... I'm just not sure how I feel about an AI robot being the big-bad of the Dune Saga. Perhaps that was Frank's intention and Brian just takes the blame for it, but to me Dune has always stood out as being away from and beyond those kinds of science-fiction stories. Dune has always been a very human story. Superhuman at times, sure, but even then, at its heart, a very human story. It focused on the way that people falter, and on the way that the systems they create collapse. It showed the dangers of human capability; the horrors we are capable of, or the horrors we are incapable of avoiding. So this idea that the ultimate problem of Dune is a robot just doesn't really jive with me, and I don't think my feelings on this would be any different were it Frank, rather than Brian, behind the pen... Reverend Mother Mohiam says in the very beginning of Dune: "Once, men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them." Other men. Humans were still the root problem. The base of the pillar, to me, was always the faults of humanity. That was what the Dune Saga set out to examine. And so unfortunately I have an inherent problem with the direction this story has gone, as it feels like they've lost sight of what made Dune Dune all along.