I read part of Frank Herbert's original Dune series many years ago. I remember only that it was a complex story, without enough of the romanticism of my favorite fantasy sci-fi novels. So I approached the prequel, Dune: House Atreides, co authored by Brian Herbert (son of the late Frank Herbert) and Keven J. Anderson, with some skepticism. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised.
The novel centers around Leto Atriedes, the only son and heir of House Atreides. Although much of the novel revolves around him, it's basically standard fare sci-fi, there's nothing overly intriguing or revealing about house Atreides.
Another main plot line revolves around Baron Harkonnen, titular head of House Harkonnen and Planetary Governor of Arakkis (also known as Dune). The Duke is a fit and healthy man, nothing like the corpulent and grossly fat Harkonnen of the original dune. The reader is given a fascinating look at this corrupt and vile figure, and the event which leads to his eventual physical degeneration. The parts of the novel concerning Harkonnen are thoroughly engrossing, and offer a good contrast with our stalwart hero, Leto.
The planetologist Pardot Kynes and the desert people of Dune are also a major subplot, foreshadowing much of the original dune. Kynes plays a key role, as events which will unfold in the future are carefully planned, and set up. We're also given an insight to the character and fitness of Crown Prince Shaddam, heir to the throne of Emperor of the Known Universe. In addition to the information concerning Arrakis, there's also some tantalizing parts concerning spice, and spatial navigation.
The novel was a good read, with an interesting yet comprehensible plot, a broad array of characters and good development of the Dune universe. The writing was strong, and conveys a strong plot. In fact, the entire book revolves around forwarding the storyline, perhaps to a fault. This may contribute to my main criticism; the dearth of strong character development. While the characters lent themselves to good plot development, they appeared one dimensional. The main characters were either good or wicked with few nuances. Important supporting characters were not developed at all. Kynes, for example, seemed to serve no purpose other than being a plot vessel. Any development in his character lacked any defined human elements, and seemed to serve only towards moving the plotline towards it's eventual union with Dune.
Overall, the novel was entertaining, although I would not rank it among the best of fantasy/sci-fi novels. Unquestionably 'hardcore' sci-fi, the book tends to sacrifice the human element in favour of a pressing plot. As I'm not intimately familiar with the original series, I can't attest as to whether or to what extent this novel explains any of the compelling mysteries of the Dune universe. It does should some light on later, events, and provides an interesting backdrop for fans of the series. For myself, I can say that the stage is set for stories to come, and has rekindled my interest in the original series.