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Chapterhouse Dune    by Frank Herbert order for
Chapterhouse Dune
by Frank Herbert
Order:  USA  Can
Macmillan, 2009 (1985)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Chapterhouse Dune is the last (following Heretics of Dune) of Frank Herbert's six Dune novels (the series has since been extended by Herbert's son Brian writing with Kevin J. Anderson). This series finale - which I listened to in thirteen unabridged audiobook CDs taking sixteen and a half hours - is light on action (until a little at the very end of the story) and heavy on introspection and philosophy (even more so than usual for a Frank Herbert novel). But I find it more pleasant to listen to a verbose style than to read it.

As the story begins, the Honored Matres (who control men through sexual addiction and destroyed Rakis in Heretics of Dune) have returned from the Scattering and proven themselves a power to be reckoned with. But it seems that they flee an even greater enemy, a powerful and mysterious one that forced them to retreat by attacking with a biological weapon. They have the Bene Gesserit on the run, hidden on their Chapterhouse stronghold (which they are busy transforming into a new desert planet suitable for sandworms) and sending out small groups, hoping that some will survive to perpetuate their order.

Darwi Odrade, an Atreides descendant, is now Mother Superior, though her choices are often questioned. Ghola Duncan Idaho is confined on a no-ship on Chapterhouse, along with Murbella (a captured Honored Matre who is studying Bene Gesserit ways and is imprinted on Duncan as he is on her). Also a captive on the ship is Scytale, the sole surviving Tleilaxu Master, whose secrets the Bene Gesserit are milking. Unknown to them, Scytale's body holds a nullentropy tube, filled with the cells of key figures from the past, including Paul Atreides. Sheeana (who can communicate with sandworms) is now a Reverend Mother but follows her own agenda, which eventually involves escape to an unknown destiny on the no-ship.

Another brief story thread follows Reverend Mother Lucilla. Before her capture by the Honored Matres, Lucilla passes the shared minds of millions of dead Reverend Mothers to Rebecca, a wild Reverend Mother and a Jew. Rebecca and her company eventually find their way to the Bene Gesserit, just as the latter are in the midst of battle with the Honored Matres. The attack is led by ghola Miles Teg, who from necessity was awoken to his identity early. He is still a child. Though Odrade attempts to trap the Honored Matres by a pretended submission to them, she is trapped in turn. But a Mother Superior always has layers of contingency plans and Murbella executes one of them.

The episode ends with many unresolved questions. What happens to those who escape on the no-ship? How will Murbella handle her new power? And what is the role of the powerful Face Dancers, of whom we've had tantalising glimpses in Duncan's dreams? Euan Morton, Katherine Kellgren, Scott Brick and Simon Vance do an excellent job of distinguishing the wide variety of male and female characters involved in this episode. But though I appreciate having multiple narrators (of both sexes), I find it distracting when different narrators speak for the same character (as was the case with Odrade, in this CD). Nevertheless I enjoyed listening to Chapterhouse Dune much more than reading it, and recommend that other Dune fans try the audiobooks.

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