Navigators of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson

navigators-of-duneI know, I know. Don’t judge me. Dune books are like drugs for me. I’m so in love with the world that I can’t stop reading them, and while the original Dune is clearly the best by an astronomical margin, I enjoy revisiting the world as Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson craft new stories in it.

Saying all that to say, I got this book two weeks early at DragonCon in Atlanta, and I met Kevin Anderson and he signed it for me. I WAS VERY HAPPY. I REGRET NOTHING.

Now, to the book:

Navigators of Dune is the conclusion to the Great Schools trilogy, set in the years after the Butlerian Jihad as humanity finds itself able to focus on other things than simply the great war with machines. Manford Torondo and his fanatical Butlerians have seized even more power than before and vehemently oppose Josef Venport and his enterprises (the beginnings of the Spacing Guild). Josef, on the outs with new emperor Roderick Corrino after the details of his brother’s death came to light, struggles to fight on two fronts and keep his business going – and the light of science strong. And meanwhile, Vorian Atreides and Valya Harkonnen, Mother Superior of the Sisterhood, are spiraling toward a final confrontation that will surely be fatal for one of them.

One of those axioms that writers repeat ad nauseum is “show, don’t tell.” It’s not always true, as there are instances where things must be told, but it generally makes for a stronger novel. That was one of my main issues with this book – there’s so much telling in the first half of the novel, telling us what happened in previous books, telling us what characters feel instead of showing it through their actions, etc. In a few chapters, recapping and telling what so and so feels such and such takes up 90% of the chapter. It bloats the first half and makes it drag, which is frustrating because SO MUCH happens in the second half.

The other thing that bugs me is that the book sets you up to root for Josef Venport (Roderick Corrino too to some degree, but he hasn’t been in the series as long). You can’t really root for Manford because he’s very anti-progress, Valya is kind of a jerk, Vorian isn’t in it enough to be your primary character, so you’re left with Josef. And despite his choices and his use of cymeks against humans, I wanted Josef Venport to win so badly.

That’s the problem though – you know he can’t. We know how this ends, how this has to end, to bring about the world of the original Dune. As a result, Josef has to make some exceptionally stupid decisions that don’t fit with his character. It’s immensely frustrating to read in places, and I wish it hadn’t been framed the way it was. There had to be a better way to handle Josef’s plotline.

But there are good moments, and Erasmus is one of them. It’s interesting to see how his memory core pans out in this final book, and almost touching that he develops some feelings for Anna Corrino. I’ve always liked Erasmus as a character, in part because he is so unique, and so this book was satisfying on that front.

Roderick Corrino is also a much more interesting character than his brother Salvador. I don’t often find myself liking the Corrinos, but Roderick is an exception and I wish he’d been more of a focus in previous books. He’s front and center here, making the best of a difficult situation, and I appreciated his chapters greatly.

We also get a bit of the Atreides/Harkonnen feud. Vorian is desperate to bring it to an end with his death, and while he succeeds in making Valya think she’s won, he doesn’t get the result he ultimately wanted because we know the feud continues.

On the whole, it’s a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and there are some good setpieces that are fun to read (like the attack on Lampadas). Is it the strongest of the Herbert/Anderson books? No, it’s not. I would only recommend this particular spin-off series if, like me, you just can’t put the world down.

Grade: 3.5/5

Memorable Quote

“Josef’s thoughts went wild. Such weapons were utterly forbidden in the Imperium. Atomics! Emperor Roderick would never have authorized this strike – Manford Torondo and all his followers would now be shunned, banished from imperial society.

Or…would Roderick gloss over the horrendous war crime as the price of vengeance? Josef was sickened. Did the Emperor even know about this?”

— Navigators of Dune, pg. 257

-Regina

Originally appeared on Regina’s blog

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The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley

the-last-mortal-bond.pngI actually finished this book several months ago, but I’ve been so behind that it’s taken me this long to review it. Which is a shame, because wow – this was such a good conclusion to The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series. Slow clap for Mr. Brian Staveley.

Picking up where The Providence of Fire left off, The Last Mortal Bond follows the emperor’s children as they struggle to thwart the Csetriim plot to rid the land of the new gods and, in so doing, “cure” and/or purge humanity from the earth. Kaden has set up his republic, but it goes ill, and he cannot convince Triste to do what she must to save everyone. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, as Adare finds out. Her general is losing to the sadistic Urghul (thanks to the leach Balendin), and she must make amends with her brother to save her kingdom. Valyn is lost in the wilderness, blind but not blind, and full of rage and desire for revenge. And Gwenna and the remnants of Valyn’s Wing return to the islands to salvage what’s left of the Kettral.

That sounds like a lot – and it is. This book is a doorstopper in size to deal with it too. Yet daunting as it may look, the story breezes by. There’s so much that has to happen, so the plot never drags, and you’ll find yourself at the end of it before you know it.

Though the main plot deals with the Csetriim, Ran il Tornja isn’t the only bad guy that has to be dealt with. I was more than a bit surprised to discover that Balendin is actually much more of an immediate threat, and a large portion of the book is devoted to plans to stop the invading Urghul he leads. This gives The Last Mortal Bond a nice balance as it bounces between dealing with a very metaphysical, intangible threat and a very in-your-face, here-and-now problem.

This is also far and away the best book for Staveley’s characters. Each and every one of them has to confront a problem and rise to the occasion, so we see much more growth here. Adare has to swallow her pride and find ways to compromise to do right by her people (and actually make good choices instead of poor ones). Valyn struggles with his new abilities and the dark feelings they’ve awoken inside him. Kaden finds himself forced to deal with emotions he hasn’t truly felt in years as he seeks out Meshkent, god of pain, to thwart Ran. And Gwenna’s budding leadership skills are put to the test as she struggles to reform the Kettral.

I like plots that hinge on religions or something to do with divinities, so the central plot here had strong appeal for me now that it was out in the open. Staveley handles it well, revealing just enough about how divinities work in his world, and creating some memorable characters and moments. Kaden finally came into his own here, and toward the end of the book, I finally found myself liking him for the first time.

The big showdown on Intarra’s Spear is exceedingly well-written and enjoyable – it’s possibly the best moment of Staveley’s prose in all three books. And I appreciate that Staveley didn’t pull any punches. The ending has a very real, bittersweet feel to it, without being overly grimdark; there was a cost to pay, yes, but there is hope for the future too.

A lot of other reviewers have found Gwenna’s story to be largely tangential, and it’s true that the book probably could have been thinned out by omitting it without too much damage to the central plot. But Gwenna’s story was most interesting, for me, and I found myself speeding through chapters to get back to her. Staveley’s created a real gem in her, because she’s a very compelling read. I found myself strongly identifying with her, and she has some of the most exciting passages of the book, with the retaking of the islands and the Kettral assault on Balendin.

The Last Mortal Bond also takes us to some exciting new places, including Rassambur, home of the Skullsworn, where we meet Pyrre again. I love the Skullsworn as a concept, so this was a welcome stop. As I did with The Providence of Fire, I have to commend Staveley on his world. It was on full display again here, much to my great satisfaction. In fact, there was very little for me to nitpick on this book, other than a few character decisions I didn’t fully understand here and there.

To sum, I’ve come full circle on this series. I found The Emperor’s Blades somewhat lacking, but with books two and three, Staveley really turned it up to 11, and I expect The Last Mortal Bond will rank on my list of favorite books from 2016.

On a related note, I’m excited to hear he’s writing some standalones, and I’m glad he’s starting with Pyrre because I missed her for much of this novel. Can we have one for Gwenna next?

Me, to Brian Staveley

Grade: 4.75/5

Memorable Quote

“He could remember a time when darkness had been a quality of the world itself, a thing of the sky when the sun sagged below the horizon and the light leaked out; a thing of the sea when you dove deep enough for the weight of the salt water to smother the shine; a thing of castle keeps and caves after someone snuffed the last lamp and the great stone space went black. Even the darkness of Hull’s Hole, that absolute absence of light filling the cave’s snaking chamber: you went into it, then you came out. Or if you failed to come, if the slarn tore you apart, then you slid into the longer darkness of death. It had seemed an awful fate once, being stuck in that endless black. That was before the blade had taught Valyn hui’Malkeenian a greater, more terrible truth: the outer dark, for all its horrors – the old, cold dark of caverns or the bottomless dark of the dead – it was nothing when set beside the darkness carried inside, a darkness bled into poisoned flesh and carved across ruined eyes, a darkness of the self.”

— The Last Mortal Bond, pg. 174

-Regina

Originally appeared on Regina’s blog