Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Frank Herbert unfortunately never had the time opportunity to complete his magnum opus, the Dune series, with the sixth book, Chapterhouse: Dune, unexpectedly marking the end of it. The story now focuses on the Bene Gesserit and their struggle for survival in a time when Arrakis is destroyed and the Old Empire have fallen prey to the Honored Matres, whose total conquest of the known world is nearly complete.
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Frank Herbert Brings the End to Dune
Unfortunately, Frank Herbert departed this world before he had a chance to write the seventh book of the Dune series, which he planned on being the final. As such, the sixth novel in the series, titled Chapterhouse: Dune, marks the end of a grandiose adventure which spanned thousands and thousands of years.
While theoretically you could read the Dune books as standalone works for the large amounts of time which pass between them, I would still personally recommend you read them in order. At the very least, you ought to read the previous chapter if you haven’t, titled Heretics of Dune.
Our story continues only a few years after the events of the last book, with the universe suffering a massive state of turmoil which promises to end soon, one way or the other. The desert planet Arrakis, known for being the sole source of the universally-coveted spice melange, has been wiped out from the face of the universe.
Whatever was left of the Old Empire has been destroyed and consumed by the Honored Matres, an extremely violent matriarchal cult hell-bent on the total conquest of the known universe. What’s more, they are only steps away from completing their plan, with only a single threat standing in their way: the weakened Bene Gesserit.
Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.― Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune
Though they lack numbers and power, the Bene Gesserit have colonized a green world known as Chapterhouse, and have undertaken the process of scorching it into a desert where they would be able to breed the sandworms producing the spice. What’s more, they have a secret ace up their sleeve, a man who has lived many lifetimes and even served under the God Emperor himself, Paul Muad’Dib.
The Bene Gesserit Unveiled in Chapterhouse: Dune
Since the very start of the saga with Dune, the Bene Gesserit have, for me at least, been one of the more intriguing and captivating elements of the story, never failing to disappoint from one book to the next. Their true purpose and intentions always shrouded in mystery, they’ve generally been the powerful yet underestimated player behind the scenes.
When I saw how much this book delved into their seemingly mystical sisterhood, I was nothing if not overjoyed at the opportunity for so much exposition around one of the series’ most powerful aspects. Their mixture of wisdom, philosophical depth, and understanding of metaphysical concepts is one-of-a-kind in the entire world of literature.
Naturally, the expositions we receive behind the veil into their methods, goals and motivations are quite complex in their nature and, for the most part, probably need to be read a few times to fully absorb the information they have to impart. In other words, the reader is required to work their grey cells a little, but the rewards are well worth it.
I think one of the main attributes which makes the Bene Gesserit such an appealing element in the story is the believability with which they are portrayed. They feel not only like a possible offshoot of the humanity we know, but perhaps even a logical one, should our civilization be fortunate enough to exist for so long. Even when their actions feel foreign, they still feel justified and rational.
Face your fears or they will climb over your back.― Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune
The Honored Matres, on the other hand, represent an extreme opposite to the Bene Gesserit, thriving in total chaos and force. Witnessing the clash between the two vastly-different yet, on some level, similar factions, is perhaps one of the more exciting conflicts in the entire series, filled with clever tricks, traps and of course, a healthy dose of deception.
A Chess Game for the Universe
Though the Bene Gesserit might be the principal focus on the book when looking at it from a distance, this doesn’t mean Frank Herbert has neglected the introduction of pieces on his chessboard. Ever since the first book, the series has thrived, in part at least, thanks to its large number of characters and the personal agendas they all carried.
Though the universe might be under threat of a total conquest and the Old Empire is completely destroyed, there are still plenty of interesting people who have their own plots and ideas to enact. Though for the most part I could confidently identify the good and the bad, there were a few twists along the way I didn’t see coming, something few series which last this long can achieve.
If I had to point out a flaw in the story, it would have to be Frank Herbert’s tendency to sometimes meander a bit by indulging himself with expositions while slowing the plot down. While I did enjoy those passages as well for what they were, the change in pacing didn’t feel very welcome. However, I can’t say those moments were numerous enough to prevent me from enjoying the book.
As a matter of fact, I would say the pacing ramps up quite considerably within the last hundred and fifty pages or so, and Herbert does a good job of drumming up the importance of what’s at stake: the fate of the known universe. It felt like an appropriate escalation from the previous books in the series.
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The ending of Chapterhouse: Dune is, in my opinion, one of the better endings in the Dune series as a whole, if not the best. Though the series never saw the completion Frank Herbert had intended for it, I feel like the conclusion in this book does it justice and ends it all in a satisfying manner.
The Final Verdict
Chapterhouse: Dune by Frank Herbert is a nearly-flawless unexpected conclusion to the Dune series, taking us as deep as possible into the sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit, all while a cosmic game of chess is being played for the fate of the universe. If you’re a fan of the series and have come this far, then I strongly recommend you keep going for what is perhaps one of the best endings to any science-fiction series out there.
Video: From the archives of the UCLA Campus Events Commission. Digitized 2015
(October 8th, 1920 – February 11th, 1986)
Frank Herbert was an American author who primarily wrote in the science-fiction genre, with the 1965 novel Dune and its five sequels being considered as his magnum opus.
He also worked as a newspaper journalist, a photographer, book reviewer, lecturer and ecological consultant. In addition to being made into two movies, Dune also won the 1965 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1966 Hugo Award.