At the end of GOD EMPEROR OF DUNE, fourth in the series, mankind was able to migrate out of the then-known universe, the old empire, without the possibility of being traced, making it impossible for one power to dominate or destroy all of mankind. This event is called the scattering.
At the end of HERETICS OF DUNE, the fifth volume, an organization of power-mad women, the Honored Matres, has secretly returned from the scattering to conquer the old empire and destroy the rival Bene Gesserit. The Bene Gesserit is an organization of women dedicated to subtle forms of education combined with genetic engineering as a means of helping humanity mature.
CHAPTERHOUSE: DUNE continues the story of the previous volume. On the secret Chapterhouse planet, Odrade, leader of the Bene Gesserit, plans to preserve her order. One part of the plan involves Murbella, a young Honored Matre captured in the previous volume. Educated into the more mature viewpoint of the Bene Gesserit, she becomes a potential weapon against the Honored Matres. In case this plan should fail, Odrade also works to educate and scatter Bene Gesserit Reverend Mothers onto unknown planets.
Though it is not apparent at first, Odrade also wishes to use Sheeana, a unique Reverend Mother, as yet a third facet in self-defense. Sheeana has the power to communicate with the giant sandworms which have developed from the metamorphosis of the God Emperor in the fourth volume. A measure of Odrade’s maturity is that, while she is unsure what Sheeana will do, she has faith that it will be helpful.
This book is typical of the Dune novels: There is the unusual intrigue, the dramatic conflict between personal desires and service to ideals, the cosmic perspective, and the political and social philosophy which are hallmarks of the series. There is also the development of multiple threads of action which are woven into the pattern of a central character’s plan. These features make this novel as good a read as any other book in the series, though it does not surpass the pleasure of first entering Herbert’s world in DUNE.