Let me first state that I loved the series enough to run right out and buy a hardcover as soon as possible. If you've read some of these before and do...moreLet me first state that I loved the series enough to run right out and buy a hardcover as soon as possible. If you've read some of these before and do not feel as strongly, I suggest you get on the waiting list at the public library rather than spending the money, or wait for the paperback. I would rank this story as fourth best of the six books, though I would give them all three stars or better.
Ayla is a wonderful character whose life experiences shape a fascinating personality. I think she is a good model for women of all ages. I would say more, but I am resolved to keep this review spoiler-free. I like that racisim and its effects on the haters as well as the hated is a minor theme repeated throughout the series. I also am fond of the settings.
For those who have not read any of these stories yet, I'd suggest you read the first three books and decide if you wish to go further. I loved the characters as well as the situations in which they are placed. I did not like that most of this is told in the third person, I would much prefer to know more of the thoughts and feelings of those beside Ayla who are involved in the incidents.
Let's review the series: in The Clan of the Cave Bear, a five-year-old Cro-magnon girl, Ayla, is found by a Neanderthal medicine woman and her brother, the group's holy man, who raise her. Much of the interest is in the clash of cultures caused by prejudice and by the differing ways the brains of the two subspecies work. A lot of what interested me was the depiction of prehistoric daily life. Auel did a wonderful job of describing the probable spiritual life of a people long gone. At the end of the story, Ayla was exiled. I think the character was around 14 years old at the time.
The second book, The Valley of Horses, tells two parallel stories. The first is the story of Ayla's survival on her own for several years, the other is the story of Jondalar and his brother who journey eastward over the same time frame. Their fates converge, and again the differences between cultures are a feature. A subplot is the romance between Jondalar and Ayla. Their relationship is told in isolation from any other characters. One interesting feature involves the probable origin of the domestication of animals. I really liked the description of boat building, and also that of the relationship one culture had with their main food source, the sturgeon. Here is the first time in the series we are shown interactions between adult Cro-Magnons and the Neanderthals, though it happens in nearly all the remaining books.
In The Mammoth Hunters, Ayla for the first time meets a group of people who share her genetic heritage. There is a lot of interest in the plot caused by differences between her upbringing and the culture into which she moves. Ayla becomes a fully adult woman, and the romance hits its first rocky period. Misunderstandings are caused by differences in culture, in few other books anywhere does the setting so directly influence plot. I thought that feature was excellent. Also, now Jondalar must win Ayla when she has a basis for comparison. One good subplot involves the culture's dealings with a child (not Ayla's) who is half Neanderthal and half Cro-Magnon. I also liked the descriptions of the process of the construction of clothing. I found more character growth in this book than in any of the others.
The Plains of Passage was a weaker book than the first three in my opinion. Jondalar and Ayla are traveling westward to return to his home. It is good that they meet and learn from other cultures. However, we are made to suffer page after page, after page, after page, after interminable page of physical description of the land across which they travel and its flora and fauna. A good editor would have cracked down on that. I suggest the section be skimmed rather than read; none of the incidents during that section have any affect on character growth. On the other hand, I found the author's description of the probable origin of the discovery of lye soap fascinating. One of the best features of the book was a portion in which sexist prejudice directly affects events. At the end of the book, Ayla and Jondalar reach his home.
In The Shelters of Stone, Ayla and Jondalar find that all is not smooth sailing just because the journey is done. Ayla's adaptation to her new home's culture is a fascinating part of the story. I did not find the book memorable, but I will probably read it again someday. We get some great descriptions of the probable development of the diverging and cross-pollinating of cultures in the parts involving the characters named Willomar and Dalanar.
Now we come to the current book in the series, The Land of Painted Caves. This book had the most character growth of any since the third book. The theme of this one seems to me to be more of about how ideas can change a culture, and Ayla's unique global perspective is a part of this. Again, misunderstandings based in cultural differences affect the relationship between Jondalar and Ayla, which matures in this book. They seemed middle-aged to me, but in perspective, knowing that the average life expectancy of a human in the wild was only about 35 years, perhaps they were.
A weakness of Auel's work in this series seems to be that we really only get to know Ayla well. In fact, the only time we seem to be given Jondalar's perspective after the second book is when he has messed up. In this book, I would have liked to have been given his feelings about being the prehistoric equivalent of a stay-at-home-dad when his child's mother has cultural duties that conflict with the best interests of the family and of the relationship.
The same is true of the character known as The First among those who Serve. I would have liked to know her better. We are told a lot about what she does, but little about how she thinks until she feels she has messed up. In fact, I think it seems like some editor forced Auel to add the part about those feelings.
I know Auel is capable of writing how I'd like, because the scene where she visits a certain location has a character known as The Watcher sharing reactions. This scene was very well done.
I was thrown off a bit by the way four years are skipped over at one point. The transition was abrupt, I don't know if it was poor editing or poor writing. Other than that, I was happy with the quality of the writing.
A strength of this book is that Auel is able to refer back to things that happened in other books in such a way as to not require total recall. Enough explanation is given to remind one of the earlier incidents, but not so much as to be obtrusive. I would venture to say that one who has not read the earlier books would find the explanation sufficient. Happily, these incidents are only shown as they affect Ayla's actions or understanding of the events of the current book.
A minor theme is the affect of substance abuse on individuals, their families, and the group as a whole. This is done very well without being preachy.
A highlight of this story is the probable origin of art, involving cave paintings such as those at Lascaux. It is also nice that some characters from earlier books affect the plot, and there was a feeling at the end of the story that the series has been wrapped up.
I would not recommend the books be read out of order. I know I will more than once read the series from beginning to end. I have been re-reading the first three books about once every five years.
I think this one earned 4.5 out of five stars. Enjoy!(less)