The sequel to 'House Atreides', House Harkonnen manages to improve slightly on it's predecessor, but not by much. Marred by technical problems such as monotonous and repetitive language, 'Harkonnen' can be a demanding read. The plot elements which redeemed 'Atreides' are still present, but can be overbearing. With so many different storylines waiting to be told, it's inevitable that some don't get the attention they deserve, while it can be confusing to keep track of numerous and currently unrelated threads. Still, the strength of this series is story, and it's story the authors stay faithful to
Baron Harkonnen's physical health continues to deteriorate, as a result of a mysterious disease. Once the Suk doctor Yueh is certain of the source, the Baron and his twisted Mentat scheme to extract vengeance from their enemies. Meanwhile, on Lankeviel, Vladimir's brother, and Rabban's father, is not being sufficiently evil, and is therefore an embarrassment to House Harkonnen. Rabban is sent to address the problem, and returns with his baby brother, Feyd-Rautha.
Under the Baron's very nose, on Geidi Prime, Gurney Halleck is well, being oppressed. He gets oppressed some more, and then a little more for good measure, and then escapes their infernal clutches, swearing eternal hatred against the unspeakable evilness of the Harkonnen. Just like Duncan Idaho did, in the last book.
On Ix, C'tair Pilru continues to resist the Tleilaxu conquerors, all the while seeking help from Duke Leto and Rhombur Vernius. The Telilaxu themselves are grinding Ix underfoot, while they strive to create Amal, synthetic melange.
Earl Vernius continues to flee Imperial justice, and swears to bring down Shaddam IV, whatever the cost to himself. Based on Arrakis and Salusa Secundus, his band of outlaws begin to undermine Imperial power.
Kailea Vernius is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with her status as concubine, and grows increasingly estranged from Leto. The situation becomes volatile with the arrival of Jessica, a Bene Gesserit consort from Kaitain. Convinced she and her son Victor are being cheated of their rights by Leto, Kailea takes matters into her own hands.
Duke Leto works on consolidating his power in the Landsraad, growing into his role as Duke on Caladan, helping Rhombur plan the liberation of Ix, loving his son, and trying to reconcile with Lady Kailea while trying not to fall in love with Jessica. Busy being an all around good guy in general.
Other plot lines concern the Imperial Planetologist Pardot Kynes and his son Liet, as they strive to turn Arrakis into a living world. Duncan Idaho travels to Ginaz to become a swordmaster for House Atreides, and realizes one can never really escape politics and feuds. The Bene Gesserit continue their quest to birth the Kwisatz Haderach, now only a generation away.
Herbert and Anderson attempt to put a darker spin on this book, particularly to impress upon the reader the wanton cruelty of the Harkonnen family. There's more violence this time around, and the depravity of the Harkonnen's is thoroughly explored. However, instead of reinforcing the reader's hate of these characters, it's become somewhat ludicrous. It's difficult to believe that House Harkonnen is as powerful as it is, given their waste, repression and general incompetence. Instead of building hate for the characters, it only serves to make them less believable.
'House Harkonnen' doesn't manage to excel in any one area, but does manage to outright fail in others. If you can get by the muddled writing and hollow characters, there's a real gem of a story back there, just waiting to be told. All in all, 'Harkonnen' manages to hold up well as a middle book, and promises excitement in the third installment.