Book review: 'Princess of Dune', a prequel novel by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.

Book Review: ‘Princess of Dune’

Two women were critical in shaping the pivotal events of our time—Princess Irulan, firstborn daughter of Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, and the Fremen Chani, daughter of Imperial Planetologist Liet-Kynes. They come from opposite ends of the political and economic spectrum, but their lives hurtled on collision courses with Paul Atreides, the legendary Muad’Dib. — Imperial Archives on Kaitain

This standalone novel takes place two years before events in Frank Herbert’s original Dune novel, and one year before the recent Duke/Lady/Heir of Caladan book trilogy – making it a prequel to a prequel! I’ll admit to initially being somewhat confused by the title, since it doesn’t seem to naturally apply to either Irulan or Chani, but as the story unfolds its relevance becomes clear.

Book cover artwork for 'Princess of Dune'.
Release Date
October 3, 2023
Princess of Dune
Brian Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson
Tor Books (Macmillan)

Many of the earlier prequels to Dune focus on House Atreides, particularly its “hero” Paul Atreides (once he enters the picture), but there are other crucial characters whose lives—before that eventful year of 10,191 A.G.—have remained unexplored. Princess of Dune aims to address that, at least for two of the most important women in Paul’s life; Princess Irulan Corrino and Chani, a Fremen warrior on the planet Arrakis – also known as Dune.

Plot Synopsis

Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan Corrino in David Lynch's 'Dune' movie.
Princess Irulan (Virginia Madsen) from the iconic opening in Lynch’s Dune (1984).

As one of this novel’s primary characters, we follow Irulan’s life in the Imperial Court on Kaitain, including complex relationships with her father, Emperor Shaddam IV, and numerous sisters (the lack of a male heir plays an important role both in this book and Dune). While many of her sisters are not directly relevant to the story, it’s enjoyable seeing more of Wensicia’s backstory (she has an important role later in Children of Dune), even if I couldn’t help but picture her as a young Susan Sarandon!

Julie Cox as Princess Irulan and Susan Sarandon as Princess Wensicia in Sci-Fi Channel's 'Children of Dune' TV miniseries.
Princess Irulan (Julie Cox) and her “younger” sister Princess Wensicia (Susan Sarandon) from the Children of Dune (2003) miniseries.

When Moko Zenha, a young officer in the Imperial army, must choose between obeying an order from his superior (but woefully inept) commander—one that would endanger the lives of thousands—or commit an act of mutiny, his actions are condemned as treasonous by Emperor Shaddam. In spite of this, the young man is hailed as a hero by many fellow officers, especially those likewise serving under men with no real military skill. Among the commanders, some had groundlessly gained their positions due to the Imperium’s corrupt nature. As support grows for Zenha, other ships join his cause, sending ripples throughout the universe, even reaching into the very center of the Imperium.

Meanwhile on Arrakis, Chani is fighting against the Harkonnens, aided by other familiar members of Sietch Tabr, including Jamis and Stilgar. However just as Irulan serves both the Bene Gesserit and House Corrino, we see Chani’s own difficult relationship with her father, Liet-Kynes, as he wants her to follow in his footsteps as the Imperial Planetologist. That’s a role that Chani sees as less than being a true Fremen.

Zendaya as Chani, in Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune: Part Two' movie.
Chani (Zendaya) in Dune: Part Two (2024).

Poor old Baron Harkonnen and his nephew “Beast” Rabban end up in the middle, facing attacks from the Fremen on one side, and the displeasure of the House Corrino on the other – not that you are likely to feel any sympathy for them.


Inevitably, the storylines of Irulan and Chani do intersect, but the authors manage to avoid introducing any obvious contradictions to the events in Dune—so anyone wanting or expecting a face-off between Chani and Irulan will be disappointed. This is a perhaps the biggest limitation with any prequel story, in that many of the outcomes of plots or the fate of certain characters are already known. So the story loses its suspense and becomes more about the journey, rather than the destination. Nevertheless, there are still a few surprises along the way.

Barbora Kodetová as Chani and Julie Cox as Irulan in Sci-Fi Channel's 'Children of Dune' TV miniseries.
Chani (Barbora Kodetová) confronts Irulan (Julie Cox) in the Children of Dune (2003) TV miniseries.

There’s also a secondary story concerning the death of a Guild Navigator. While this is the plot point that opens the book—and seems to be an important driving point at first—it soon disappears and is almost forgotten, while characters go off and do other things, until it reappears towards the end of the novel and is wrapped up quickly. This feels more like a short story that has been woven into the novel to provide more action, rather than being an integral part of the story.

The fast-paced writing style will be familiar to anyone who has already read one of the numerous other Dune novels by the authors. Short chapters cut back and forth between focus characters and different locations, intertwining the book’s various storylines and progressing its plot. If you are an Orthodox Herbertarian, who considers only the original six Dune novels as canon, then this book is unlikely to convince you otherwise.

Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan Corrino in Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune: Part Two' movie.
Irulan (Florence Pugh) in Dune: Part Two (2024).

Final Thoughts

Princess of Dune is the 17th full-length novel written together by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, that’s set in the Dune universe. It is their first book, however, that doesn’t focus on any House Atreides characters whatsoever. In fact, the only mention of “Atreides” is in the opening epigraph. 

I have often wished for more stories that focused on side characters or even brand-new people and planets, rather than the usual suspects. While this book still has well-known figures at its core it is a refreshing change of perspective, and I hope that future Dune books continue to explore further characters in the rich and vast universe of Dune—other than Houses Atreides and Harkonnen.

The Princess of Dune is due to be released October 3, 2023, and can be pre-ordered now from Amazon in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook formats.

Book cover artwork for 'Princess of Dune'.
Princess of Dune
An enjoyable prequel book, that fleshes out the backstories of two influential women in the 'Dune' universe. While its storylines are mostly unsurprising, the time spent with Chani and Irulan make this a worthwhile journey.
No House Atreides!
Provides backstories for overlooked characters.
Many outcomes are already known.
Navigator story almost seems an afterthought.

Note: This review was based on an advanced copy and the final book may have slight differences. Many thanks to Tor Books (Macmillan) for providing the Dune News Net team with copies for this book review.