Iset's Reviews > The Land of Painted Caves

The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel
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Aug 19, 14

bookshelves: palaeolithic-2-6m-to-12000bce-ficti, wall-bangers
Recommended for: No one
Read from June 03 to 10, 2011, read count: 1


The Clan of the Cave Bear was a masterful character driven drama, if slightly plodding, an intensive study of both the nature of characters and relationships. The protagonist, Ayla, was a flawed and vulnerable girl possessed of genuinely admirable determination, existing in a very dangerous, brutal and unfair world which caused her to suffer real hardships and even be threatened with death on more than one occasion. The Land of Painted Caves is a poorly written, repetitive, tedious, unenjoyable mess. The pace of the book moves at a bare crawl, the plot doesn’t even show up until the last third of the novel and even then it’s a half-baked, implausible affair that’s essentially just a rehash of the plot of the third book. The protagonists are overpowered and boring, but even worse, in an attempt to inject some drama into this story, they act inconsistently and out-of-character with their previous incarnations, whilst a veritable tide of thinly-sketched secondary characters are introduced and never heard from again. How could the debut novel of the Earth’s Children series have been so good, whilst its finale is so bad? The Land of Painted Caves was touted by publicity campaigns as "the bestseller of 2011". Instead the negative reaction from fans this time round has been overwhelming, and the word I have seen being thrown out there most often is "disappointing".

Disappointing is the word that comes foremost to my own mind in regards to this final instalment in the Earth’s Children saga, but to be honest I can’t pretend that, after having observed the decline of the series and problems inherent in The Shelters of Stone, I actually expected The Land of Painted Caves to be on a par with The Clan of the Cave Bear. I went into Painted Caves with the strong suspicion of what I would be getting myself into, and the book didn’t prove me wrong in that regards. What I found so disappointing about it was that beyond the mess that this book was, it had the potential to be so much better. Previous books had established a few potential conflicts and hinted at a few intriguing little strands that if these conflicts had been handled better and given any element of risk, or these loose strands picked up on and pursued, Painted Caves could have been a whole lot better. There was potential for a good story somewhere in there, it was simply wasted and the easy option taken instead. Even, with a more severe editor eliminating all the repetition and unnecessary chaff from this book, something could have been produced that would have been half as long and at least concise and acceptable enough to pass muster.

Repetition is a major problem in The Land of Painted Caves. Certain themes or sentences are repeated over and over again, characters would pause right in the middle of a scene to embark upon a lengthy reminisce about an event from one of the previous books, characters would even speak to one another about such prior incidents as if the other person hadn’t been there at the time and didn’t know what had happened. The repetition was so interminable that towards the last third of the novel incidents that had happened earlier in the book were revisited and readers reminded of them. This was probably the single most annoying thing, to me, in this book, the one thing that really got my rubbing my temples and having to simply stop reading because I could only take so much. For fun, and to pass the time a little, whilst I was reading the book I kept an accurate tally of the number of times certain things were repeated.

Number of times Wolf is "introduced" to someone: 4

Number of times Ayla’s baby waits to pass her water on the ground instead of in her blanket: 4

Number of times Ayla’s titles and ties are recited: 12

Number of times the Mother’s Song is either wholly or partially recited: 13

Number of times Ayla’s accent is mentioned: 32

Second to the repetition is the sheer dryness of the descriptions. In The Land of Painted Caves the sheer page space devoted to description alone overwhelms all other aspects – plot, action, characterisations – and as a result those elements really suffer from being sparsely drawn and not nearly developed enough. Had these descriptions been written with skill, vigour, or imagination, it might not have been too bad, but unfortunately the vast majority of descriptions in Painted Caves are dry, dull and technical. This has a knock on effect and drags the pacing down incessantly, turning the book into a tedious, laboured drudge that takes real effort to get through, or even pick up. Most of the description is centred around the eponymous painted caves of the novel’s title, and the heart of the book is simply the main characters visiting cave after cave after cave. The first whiff of a real plot doesn’t even show up until three-quarters of the way into the book, and by that time, clichéd and awful as this last minute contrivance is, you’re desperate for something, anything, to happen in this breeze block of a tome. Auel mentions in the Acknowledgements that she’s particularly grateful for a certain book which told her the exact positioning and placement of every image in the painted caves that Ayla’s visits in this book, and whilst I’d probably say that’s fair enough and it’s a good idea for the author to be sure of such information just in case the need crops up, it is totally unnecessary for her to pass on such level of detail to the readers. Now, as an historian I’m not saying that these details are unimportant – far from it – but if I wanted a coldly factual site report I’d read an academic publication about it – I am not looking for this level of dry detail in a fictional novel which I am reading for personal entertainment. Auel’s done her research, kudos there, I do prefer my historical fiction to be accurate rather than inaccurate, but surely the point is that she wants these historic sites to capture the imagination of her readers the way it’s captured her imagination. If that was the effect she wanted, she should have focused on creating the right impression, conveying how exciting and interesting these cave paintings are, even if that meant using broader brush strokes in her descriptions of them and omitting a few unnecessary details here and there – it shouldn’t be as important for us to know exactly how high up on the cave wall the painting is or whether it’s facing left or right, what we should walk away with is an interest and a general idea. Instead Auel seems to have shoved every last one of her research notes in here, tacked on a lame plot at the end, had it published and called it a fictional novel. Here’s an example of the kind of scintillating stuff I had to read through:

Page 326: "The cave was high above the river valley floor, and reasonably dry inside, but it was calcareous rock, which was naturally porous, and water saturated with calcium carbonate constantly seeped through it."


Painted Caves might still have been salvageable had it had a decent plot, but it doesn’t. There’s very little plot to speak of in the first three-quarters of the book, Ayla and Jondalar go to a Summer Meeting, visit a lot of caves, meet a few people and that’s pretty much it. The timeframe jumps ahead by four years at one point, totally without warning and apparently totally without reason too. When the actual plot does show up it’s so awkward and artificial that it just falls flat. The first strand of the plot, the big revelation, falls flat because it’s not actually a big revelation at all, but something that Ayla has known pretty much since the first book. (view spoiler) Just having the zelandonia’s thoughts, and the public discussion group about the new revelation was enough to really imply what Auel wanted to imply, we didn’t really need to then be hammered over the head with it by Ayla’s dream of the future, that was just written with too much modern hindsight and it was way too obvious.

The second strand of the plot is (view spoiler)

If Auel’s objective was to try and show Ayla and Jondalar with some human flaws though, it was pretty pointless, because although they do make big out-of-character mistakes on this one point, the rest of the time they’re back to being the flawlessly perfect power-couple we all know, with about as much humanity and feeling for one another as machines. Heck, even as a baby their daughter has full functioning control over her bowels and bladder and conveniently waits until she’s out of her blankets to go to the toilet. These aren’t real, breathing human beings who bleed when cut, cry, sweat and get dirty. Auel is even contradicting her own canon now to further empower her pet character:

Page 1: "Ayla, too, had extraordinarily sharp vision. She could also pick up sounds above the range of normal hearing and feel the deep tones of those that were below. Her sense of smell and taste were also keen, but she had never compared herself with anyone, and didn’t realise how extraordinary her perceptions were. She was born with heightened acuity in all her senses..."


As long-term readers will know, Ayla has an exceptionally good memory, but that particular talent is given a firm grounding, we buy into it because the whole of the first book plausibly establishes this. However this is the first I’ve ever heard of Ayla having had heightened senses from birth – when was this mentioned in any of the previous novels? This is a complete dart from the blue. Ayla’s character is just getting silly now, she’s way too overpowered. Is there anything she can’t do? Yep – sing. I know that because her inability to sing was mentioned repeatedly throughout the novel, but let’s face it, that’s not a real character flaw. Ayla is such a Mary Sue by this stage that we’re frequently treated to passages like these:

Page 428: "Ayla just looked at her and smiled, but it was the loveliest smile she had ever seen. She really is a beautiful woman, the Watcher thought. I can understand Jondalar’s attraction to her. If I were a man, I would be too."

Page 644: "Stories were already beginning, stories that would be told around hearth fires and campfires for years, about Jondalar’s love, so great it brought his Ayla back from the dead."


Talk about cheesy and clichéd. Perhaps even worse, the few things that continued to make Ayla likable are completely missing in Painted Caves. Her fierce devotion as a healer to those in need is utterly absent – on more than one occasion she’d rather ride off to the next cave than look after someone she’s treated, (view spoiler). She hunts animals for no good reason and brings down far more than she needs to, ironically practising the kind of overpredation over-exploitation message that Auel is trying to preach against. As for other characters, they might as well just not be there at all. Everyone else is barely more than a name, even her own daughter Jonayla shows no hint of personality at all and Ayla seems to show very little interest in her, surprising given what a ferocious mother she was in The Clan of the Cave Bear.

Despite having had nine years to work on this since the release of The Shelters of Stone, the finale which Auel has delivered feels rushed to press and unready for publication. I found typos and strange grammatical errors throughout but they got more frequent and worse towards the end of the book, really giving the impression that the actual plot really was just hastily tacked onto the end. The invented names were fairly unimaginative, all in all, and in the middle of a sentence sometimes the time setting would shift, the tense of the text would change, or a change from third person to first person would occur with not so much as an italicisation to indicate it. This feels sloppy and hurried. Another niggle – frequently Auel broke off from the main story to deliver a totally anachronistic comment about something that occurred long before or after the book’s setting, for example as in the following:

Page 351: "In later times, some would refer to the ozone in the atmosphere before rain as fresh air; others who had the ability to detect it thought it had a metallic tinge."

Page 380: "Some four hundred thousand years before, the force of a subterranean stream carved through the limestone, eventually wearing the calcium carbonate rock away, creating caves and passageways."


This drove me mad. It completely ruined the atmosphere of the Upper Palaeolithic world that Auel was trying to craft and forcefully jarred me out of my immersion in the story.

This brings me back into a neat circle to my initial point. The Land of Painted Caves got it wrong on so many levels, but it could have been so much better. An editor could have tightened up the errors and the repetition, and whilst the description here was unbelievably dry there were glimmers of the kind of vivid, vibrant descriptions that Auel used to write:

Page 64: "The world during the Ice Age with its glittering glaciers, transparently clear rivers, thundering waterfalls, and hordes of animals in vast grasslands was dramatically beautiful, but brutally harsh, and the few people who lived then recognised at a fundamental level the necessity of keeping strong affiliations."

Page 135: "The moon was new, and without its glowing light to moderate their brilliance, the stars filled the night sky with an awe-inspiring profusion."

Page 218: "Ayla watched the fire sending flickering sparks up into the night as though trying to reach their twinkling brethren far up in the sky above. It was dark; the moon was young and had already set. No clouds obscured the dazzling display of stars that were so thick, they seemed to be strung together on skeins of light."


There were also so many missed opportunities that could have made for a great plot in this book. (view spoiler) With a decent plot, and the feisty, strong Ayla from The Clan of the Cave Bear, the later books in the Earth’s Children series, and particularly The Land of Painted Caves, could have been as gripping a read as the first instalment was. The potential for a good story was definitely there – it all could have turned out so differently! And that’s why The Land of Painted Caves was such a disappointment to me.

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Reading Progress

05/25/2011 page 0
0.0% "Rapidly moving up the library queue this past week and am now 3rd in queue, with 18 copies in the library network and 6 of those still actually on order from the publishers and due to arrive any day now - so probably will have this in my hands very soon! I wonder if I've been moving up the queue so quickly these past few days because people have been giving up on it in droves? Seems too quick for them to have read it"
06/02/2011 page 1
0.0% "Yep... it's finally here! The challenge - read all 661 pages of the latest installment in Auel's increasingly downhill saga, in the 21 days the library has loaned it out to me before I have to give it to the next person in the queue. Can it be done, or will the tedium and dreariness force me to give it back unfinished? Let's find out. Frequent updates promised."
06/03/2011 page 1
0.0% "Good god, she actually does have an editor! With how unwieldy her books have become, I had begun to think that she had insisted on refusing an editor - thus explaining why her later works have become so unmanageable and tedious. If this is what she produces with an editor's input I'd hate to see what it was like without. Either that or "Betty Prashker" has been way too tentative with the red pen."
06/03/2011 page 2
0.0% ""She was born with heightened acuity in all her senses", now wait just one cotton-picking minute here... okay, we all know, from the first book, how living with the Clan forced Ayla to remember stuff quickly and extraordinarily well... but this is the first time I've heard anything about her having has heightened acuity in her senses from birth. Now you're just being silly, Jean, making stuff up out of the blue."
06/03/2011 page 3
0.0% ""it was also at times like this that he noticed her unusual accent more". *groan* Not this crap again."
06/03/2011 page 5
1.0% ""Proleva said to Ayla". Ah, I had forgotten about Proleva. Sounds like some kind of headache cure, doesn't it? Take Proleva - fast, quick relief from aches, pains, and migraines!" 1 comment
06/03/2011 page 5
1.0% ""Though the bones and teeth of cave lions... were the same shape as their descendants that would someday roam the distant lands of the continent far to the south, they were more than half again, some nearly twice, as large." Way to jar me out of the story by referring to events that haven't yet happened *slow clap*."
06/03/2011 page 14
2.0% ""I am Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, Acolyte of Zelandoni, First Among Those Who Serve The Great Earth Mother, mated to Jondalar, Master Flint-Knapper and brother of Joharran, Leader of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii.""
06/03/2011 page 14
2.0% ""... Formerly I was Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth of the Lion Camp of the Mamutoi, Chosen by the spirit of the Cave Lion, Protected by the Cave Bear, and friend of the horses, Whinney, Racer, and Grey, and the four-legged hunter, Wolf." Flipping heck I hope this doesn't get repeated later in the book."
06/03/2011 page 25
4.0% ""I am Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii... Friend of the horses, Whinney, Racer, and Grey, and the four-legged hunter, Wolf." ARGH!!!! NO! REPETITION!!!"
06/03/2011 page 25
4.0% ""She's a foreigner with foreign customs"... Hmmm, should I count this as a repeat of someone noticing that Ayla has a foreign accent?"
06/03/2011 page 27
4.0% ""Slowly, tentatively, he stretched out his hand toward the animal. Ayla took it and brought it to the animal’s nose. Wolf wrinkled his nose and with his mouth closed, bared his teeth so that his large carnassials shearing teeth showed" Ah, the first introduction of Wolf. I expect this to be repeated frequently."
06/03/2011 page 30
5.0% ""Beladora had heard people talk about Ayla’s unusual accent... Though Ayla spoke Zelandonii very well, she just couldn’t make some of the sounds exactly right" Chalk up two mentions so far of Ayla's unusual accent."
06/03/2011 page 35
5.0% ""The Seventh asked, a bit put off by the way she spoke; it was odd, not like the way Kimeran’s pretty mate spoke, with a rather pleasant shift in certain sounds. When Jondalar’s foreign woman spoke, it was almost as though she swallowed certain sounds." Chalk up mention #3 of Ayla's accent."
06/04/2011 page 75
11.0% ""Some of the people who hadn’t met her before were surprised at the way she said certain words. It made them curious. It wasn’t like anything they had heard before. They had no trouble understanding her; she knew the language well, and had a pleasing low-pitched voice, but it was unusual." Chalk up mention #4 of Ayla's "unusual" accent."
06/04/2011 page 76
11.0% ""May I present to you Ayla of the Zelandonii, mother of Jonayla, Blessed of Doni, acolyte of the Zelandoni of the Ninth Cave, the One Who Is First Among Those Who Serve The Great Earth Mother. She is mated to Jondalar, son of Marthona, former leader of the Ninth Cave and brother to Joharran, present leader. Formerly she was..." ZZZZZZZZzzzzzZZZZZZzzzz"
06/04/2011 page 79
12.0% ""Even those who had met her the year before and had heard her talk noticed the way she spoke, her accent. To those who were seeing her for the first time, especially if they were young, and had not travelled much, her voice seemed absolutely exotic." Did you know that Ayla has an unusual accent?!"
06/04/2011 page 97
15.0% ""A couple of the young men, primarily the ones who were nervous about Wolf, looked surprised when Ayla spoke; it proclaimed her distant origins." Mention #5 of the accent. I'm not sure how much more of this I can take."
06/04/2011 page 101
15.0% ""Ayla held her out in front of her while the child wet on the ground... And Jonayla was getting so used to it, she tended to wait until she was out before she let go." Riiiiiight. Because Ayla's baby is just that perfect. I call major BS."
06/04/2011 page 109
16.0% ""May I present to you Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii... Protected by the spirit of the Cave Bear..." Oh god, less than a sixth of the way in and this is the fourth time Ayla's titles and connection have been recited. I may well go potty before I reach the end of this book."
06/04/2011 page 109
16.0% ""The sound of your speech is as interesting as your names and ties... It makes one think of faraway places." What is this? The 6th or 7th mention so far of Ayla's accent? I'm going stir crazy already."
06/04/2011 page 110
17.0% ""She took the woman’s hand and went through the process of Wolf’s introduction." Introducing more people to Wolf by letting him sniff their hands. I'm starting to reach the limits of my tolerance for today's batch of reading."
06/04/2011 page 120
18.0% ""Just listening to her speak emphasised her strangeness and made them aware that she was from some other place, a distant place, farther away than anyone had ever travelled, except for Jondalar." #7 mention of Ayla's accent. I have definitely reached my tolerance limit for this book today. I'm done for today."
06/04/2011 page 126
19.0% ""Now people had become more accustomed to her, to the way she spoke, and to the animals she controlled." Mention #8, I think, of Ayla's accent."
06/04/2011 page 132
20.0% ""Ayla took her out of her carrying blanket and held her out over the ground, where she let go of her water. She had learned quickly that the sooner she went, the sooner she’d be out of the cold and held close to a warm body again." Again, BS I say, BS!"
06/04/2011 page 135
20.0% ""The moon was new, and without its glowing light to moderate their brilliance, the stars filled the night sky with an awe-inspiring profusion." Just occasionally I do like the odd one of Jean Auel's descriptions, here and there."
06/04/2011 page 147
22.0% ""Zanacan, and the others, became very aware of Ayla’s unusual accent as she spoke, especially because they all knew the effect of different tonal qualities and voices, and had travelled around the region more than most." The tedium is beginning to get to me, particularly the fact that this is the 9th time already that Ayla's accent has come up."
06/04/2011 page 148
22.0% ""May I present to you Ayla of the Zelandonii... Formerly she was Ayla of the Lion Camp of the Mamutoi, the Mammoth Hunters who live far to the east, in ‘the land of the dawning sun’, and adopted as Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth, which is their zelandonia. Chosen by the spirit of the Cave Lion, her totem, who physically marked her..." *GROAN* This is what, the 5th recitation of all Ayla's titles?"
06/04/2011 page 148
22.0% ""Ayla reached for Zanacan’s hand and brought it to Wolf’s nose..." I swear, this book is THIS close to becoming my latest wall-banger."
06/05/2011 page 194
29.0% ""The comment made Zelandoni again aware of her odd way of saying certain sounds, as was often the case when Ayla talked about the Clan"... Yes, okay, 10th mention of this now and I got it the first time. In fact I got it in the fifth book. No need to bring this up again. Please? What does anyone want to bet that Ayla's accent is going to be mentioned at least ten more times before the end of this book?"
06/05/2011 page 204
31.0% ""Out of the darkness, the chaos of time; The whirlwind gave birth to the Mother sublime; She woke to Herself knowing life had great worth; The dark empty void grieved the Great Mother Earth; The Mother was lonely, She was the only." Not this Mother's Song crud again! Trivia: The Mother's Song was actually written by one of Jean Auel's grandchildren. Hence why it reads like a schoolchild's first stab at an ABAB poem."
06/05/2011 page 217
33.0% ""Both Vashona and her daughter suddenly became aware of Ayla’s unusual way of speaking, her exotic accent." 11th mention... I think... I don't even know anymore. This is getting hard."
06/06/2011 page 230
35.0% ""They were the most advanced society not only in their region but perhaps in all the world in their time." Again, way to jar me out to the story and back into a 21st century looking-back-with-hindsight perspective. Hate it when Auel does this."
06/06/2011 page 235
36.0% ""It had been some time since the Zelandoni of the Fifth Cave had heard Ayla speak, and her manner of speaking was noticeable" #12"
06/06/2011 page 243
37.0% ""though she was not born a Zelandonii, as her speech certainly attested." #13"
06/06/2011 page 266
40.0% ""He became aware of her unusual accent again. When he had first heard the foreign woman speak, the year before, he had thought her accent was quite strange" #14"
06/06/2011 page 268
41.0% "Whoa! Major jump ahead in time! This feels so disjointed. I wonder if, unbelievably, even Auel felt like the first part of the book wasn't going anywhere? Then again, I doubt this second part is going to go anywhere either."
06/07/2011 page 277
42.0% ""Ayla smiled at the beautiful woman with dark wavy hair and a full rounded figure, who also spoke with an accent, though it was not as unusual as hers." #14 mention of the accent... at least I think it's #14." 2 comments
06/07/2011 page 289
44.0% ""We could also make one of those round bowl boats that the Mamutoi used to make. We made one on our journey here. It held a lot of things when we attached it to Whinney’s pole-drag, especially when we had to cross rivers." Ayla talking to Jondalar. What I don't get about this is that they made the journey together - he knows full well what she's telling him, but she's phrasing it as if he doesn't already know. Weird." 3 comments
06/07/2011 page 298
45.0% ""Ayla, of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii..." I THINK this is the 6th recitation of titles and ties. Yes, I'm keeping a tally, but only so I can point out in my review how interminably repetitive this novel is."
06/07/2011 page 298
45.0% ""The man struggled not to show his surprise at the way she spoke. It was obvious that she came from someplace far away. It was rare that a foreigner was accepted into the zelandonia, yet this foreign woman was Acolyte to the First!" I can't take much more of this, and yet I bet Ayla's accent is going to be mentioned many times more before the end... I just don't know how I'm going to keep on. #15."
06/07/2011 page 298
45.0% "Quick correction of my previous update - it was the 16th mention of Ayla's accent, not the 15th. Forgive me, this book is driving me potty, it's difficult to keep count when there's so much repetition."
06/07/2011 page 303
46.0% ""The woman became very conscious of Ayla’s accent, especially after hearing her word for Wolf, and strange words for the name of the people she had mentioned." #17."
06/07/2011 page 305
46.0% ""I am Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii... Acolyte of the One Who Is First Among Those Who Serve The Great Earth Mother... Friend of the horses, Whinney, Racer, and Grey, and the four-legged hunter, Wolf..." #7 recitation of Ayla's titles and ties."
06/07/2011 page 314
48.0% ""He heard her odd accent..." #18 mention of Ayla's accent."
06/07/2011 page 318
48.0% ""It occurred to her that Willamar wouldn’t choose just one of his apprentices to be the next Master Trader... It would have been much more difficult, when we were on our Journey, if I’d had a baby along the way." The books jumps from third person to first person without warning, no italicisation to denote a character's internal thoughts or anything."
06/07/2011 page 322
49.0% ""The people nearby noticed her accent and knew she had to be the foreign woman they had heard about." #19."
06/07/2011 page 326
49.0% ""The cave was high above the river valley floor, and reasonably dry inside, but it was calcareous rock, which was naturally porous, and water saturated with calcium carbonate constantly seeped through it." ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz."
06/07/2011 page 332
50.0% "Another rendition of the Mother's Song. It's almost as if Auel stuck it in LOTPC so many times just to pay back all those people who reviewed SOS and said the song was like a schoolchild's first poem. I've just about had it for the day. I can only take so much Earth's Children in one go, and I've passed the book's halfway mark in today's session, so I'm gonna leave it there till tomorrow."
06/08/2011 page 338
51.0% ""This is Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, formerly of the Lion Camp of the Mamutoi..." I don't even know any more. #9?"
06/08/2011 page 338
51.0% ""He noticed Farnadal’s expression change as he gave her names and ties, and especially when she greet him and he heard her speak." I'm thinking #20 mention of Ayla's accent."
06/08/2011 page 341
52.0% "" 'We'll start in the morning,' Jondalar said. 'It's too late now.' Everyone from the cave who could was gathered at the bottom of the slope... Ayla and Jondalar had tied riding blankets and carry-baskets... on all three horses... He watched them start off." What just happened here? One minute Jondalar says it's too late, and then the next they are riding off? No break in the text, no mention of "the next morning"."
06/08/2011 page 342
52.0% ""There were very few people on earth at that time." ARGH! Stop jarring me out of the story by offering random modern hindsight perspective commentary, Jean!!! It's really annoying!"
06/08/2011 page 351
53.0% ""In later times, some would refer to the ozone in the atmosphere before rain as fresh air; others who had the ability to detect it thought it had a metallic tinge." Stop jarring me out of the story and back to present day, Jean! You're ruining the sense of immersion in the story, the atmosphere and ambience of the Upper Palaeolithic. It's like she never learned how to write properly."
06/08/2011 page 375
57.0% ""Everyone seemed to think it was some kind of magic. Why was it so amazing? Why couldn’t people realise that they could make friends with a horse? There was nothing magic about it." Bit rich considering Ayla never saw fit to disabuse the people she met on her Journey of the notion that she was some kind of incarnation of the Mother goddess and that her control over the horses was magic."
06/08/2011 page 376
57.0% ""Most of the time Ayla’s Zelandonii friends and relatives thought of her as an ordinary woman and mother, and didn’t even notice her accent." Little did they know, she had the distinction of being the first Mary Sue in history. 21st mention of Ayla's accent, by the way."
06/08/2011 page 377
57.0% ""then because they heard her accent" #22."
06/08/2011 page 380
57.0% ""Some four hundred thousand years before, the force of a subterranean stream carved through the limestone, eventually wearing the calcium carbonate rock away, creating caves and passageways." Instead of jolting me out of the story back to the present day, Auel is now jolting me out of the story to go further back into the past and deliver information that the people of the time couldn't possibly have known."
06/08/2011 page 381
58.0% ""Many aeons before, it had been the loop of an oxbow that was the former riverbed, but now it was home to a meadow of mixed grasses..." Same jarring thing again!"
06/09/2011 page 395
60.0% ""For those who had not heard her speak before, her accent was a surprise." #23."
06/09/2011 page 398
60.0% ""I am Ayla of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, Mated to Jondalar, Master Flint-Knapper of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii..." #10 recitation of ties. At least, I think it's #10."
06/09/2011 page 399
60.0% ""Just let him sniff you, and maybe lick your hand." Another person meets Wolf. Talk about tedious."
06/09/2011 page 409
62.0% ""Then she grew conscious that the young woman had spoken with an unusual accent" #24."
06/09/2011 page 428
65.0% ""Ayla just looked at her and smiled, but it was the loveliest smile she had ever seen. She really is a beautiful woman, the Watcher thought. I can understand Jondalar’s attraction to her. If I were a man, I would be too." Mary Sue Saccharine Overdose. Someone pass the sick bucket."
06/09/2011 page 437
66.0% ""I am a foreigner with a strange accent." #25."
06/09/2011 page 453
69.0% ""Her accent wasn’t quite as strange to the visitors because they also spoke with an accent". #26."
06/09/2011 page 461
70.0% ""She still spoke with her unusual accent". Geez, 6 years later and Ayla still has her accent?! #27 by the way."
06/10/2011 page 525
79.0% "Yet another rendition of the Mother's Song."
06/10/2011 page 525
79.0% ""Ayla spoke the language so fluently, most people hardly noticed her accent anymore. They were used to the way she said certain words and sounds. It seemed normal. But as she repeated the familiar verses, her speech peculiarity seemed to add an exotic quality," #28."
06/10/2011 page 533
81.0% "Recitation of Ayla's ties and titles. Not sure of the numbers anymore."
06/10/2011 page 534
81.0% ""It took her a moment to comprehend; then in a strong voice with an exotic accent, Ayla didn’t sing, but spoke alone." #29."
06/10/2011 page 535
81.0% ""Her voice is so distinctive, it doesn’t matter." #30."
06/10/2011 page 551
83.0% ""Who is she? And why does she talk so funny?" #31."
06/10/2011 page 561
85.0% ""Ayla and Jondalar had become legendary figures to the S’Armunai. The tale was told of the beautiful S’Ayla, the Mother Incarnate, a living munai as fair as a summer day, and her mate, the tall, blond S’Elandon who had come to earth to save the men of that southern Camp...""
06/10/2011 page 561
85.0% ""It was said that his eyes were the colour of water in a glacier, more blue than the sky, and with his light hair, he was as handsome as only the shining moon would be if he came to earth and took human form. After the Mother’s fierce Wolf, and incarnation of the Wolf Star, killed the evil Attaroa, S’Ayla and S’Elandon rode back up to the sky on their magic horses." Pass the barf bucket again. Mary Sue on acid."
06/10/2011 page 644
97.0% ""Stories were already beginning, stories that would be told around hearth fires and campfires for years, about Jondalar’s love, so great it brought his Ayla back from the dead." Big ol' roll eyes to that, I say. Definitely a case of Mary Sue Syndrome here."
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Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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message 1: by Rio (Lynne) (new)

Rio (Lynne) I think you can do it in 6 days! God, the pressure! Hate having time restraints.


message 2: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset I've worked out that in order to finish it in 18 days, and have two days left over to review it whilst still having the book to hand, I need to be hitting 37 pages per day. A not inconsiderable target, but I think it's possible. I'd better start on today's 37 pages!


message 3: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset :) Close. 7 days (I got it from the library on June 2nd, but didn't actually crack it open till the next day). I reckon I probably could have done it in 6 days, maybe less, but there was a certain point in every day, after a certain amount of pages (usually between 80 and 100), when the tedium and mind-numbing repetition just became too much for me, and for the sake of my own sanity I had to put the book down for the day.


message 4: by Rio (Lynne) (new)

Rio (Lynne) A time restraint can definitely take the joy out of reading. Congrats on 7 days!


message 5: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset Thanks. I'm actually going to relax for the rest of the day, after my big push to reach the end today, and start work on the review tomorrow.


message 6: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset Fortuitous timing - Will's latest part of his review of The Land of Painted Caves has just been uploaded!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLI2_p...


Misfit Le sigh. Stuck at work with no speakers and YouTube a no-no anyway :/


message 8: by Iset (last edited Jun 13, 2011 12:24PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset Dang, well, you can always look forwards to watching it when you get home, the anticipation will make it juicier!

Okay, I've actually finished watching in now. Great update from Will, I love watching his reviews, they're always entertaining. :)


message 9: by Victoria_Grossack (last edited Jun 14, 2011 07:35AM) (new)

Victoria_Grossack Grossack Beth, your review is admirably profound and thorough! As to the decline in the series - and I thought the books got worse with each one - I suspect it is inversely related to the amount of money she has made. I'm sure that her agent and her editor are not stupid; they're well aware of the flaws in this book - but they're also not stupid enough to ruffle the feathers of the goose that lays the golden eggs. If Jean wanted to get help to make the book better, she could not possibly lack for resources - so presumably she thinks she has written a good book, and won't listen to anyone who tells her different. Or perhaps the agent and editor were so happy to get anything, they weren't willing to point out the flaws.

But I'm curious - at least you did not buy it - but why did you read it?

A few little observations:

The three books with some plot - the first three - all have animals in their titles: Cave Bear/Horses/Mammoth. The other three books have titles about inanimate objects. Hmm, think that there's a correlation?

Many - not all, I admit - of the 5 and 4 star reviews of this book at Amazon were written by reviewers who have written no other reviews - which makes me suspect that Jean and her proxies are posting them.


message 10: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset Victoria_Grossack wrote: "Beth, your review is admirably profound and thorough! As to the decline in the series - and I thought the books got worse with each one - I suspect it is inversely related to the amount of money s..."

Thank you, Victoria! I also thought the books got slightly worse with each one - I originally wrote a paragraph about that in my review, but GoodReads told me I'd gone over the word limit and would have to cut down if I wanted to post, so I had to delete that paragraph! I will dig it up in a moment and try to repost it below.

I have maintained a very similar theory to you. It baffled me that the books seemed to go downhill and that the first one was in fact the best, and the only explanation I could think for it was that in the beginning when Jean was an untested author her editor must have had a great deal of input and just tightened up the whole story for her, cut out the extraneous stuff and dragging parts. Then, when the debut novel became a big hit, the publishing house and editors became more reluctant to upset the apple cart - as you said, Auel became the golden goose and they didn't want to ruffle her feathers - so I think what must have happened is that she gained more and more creative control to the point where the editor's input in the past two books has been fairly minimal. And seeing as the previous two books did take so many years to come out, as you say Victoria I suspect the publishing house were relieved to get a manuscript out of her and just decided to run with it, banking on Auel's name bringing in the money even though they probably quietly worried that it wasn't ready for press and that fans would reject it. Which is exactly what has happened.

I did not buy it - after I read Shelters of Stone, which I did stupidly buy, I vowed not to buy this one but to wait for it from the library. Why did I read it? The first really got me hooked, I definitely enjoyed it and wanted more, so it was at that point that I foolishly bought the sequels up to Shelters of Stone. The first three were enjoyable enough for me to read them just for the sake of it, even if they were declining. I think the fourth is excusable because I didn't know until afterwards how bad it was until I'd read it. I was tempted not to read the fifth, but since I'd bought it and I'm one of those readers who very rarely gives up on a book, I forced my way through the fifth. With this one, I could say that having gone through the first five I almost wanted to see how it would finish for a sense of completeness... but I think the driving factor was morbid curiosity! Having seen for myself the decline of this series, I actually learnt a lot of lessons by studying it as a sort of "what not to do", and also I think there's value in reading the odd bad book once in a while because of that - and in the process helping and warning other potential readers so they don't have to go through it!

I had never noticed that about the titles before, but I do see the pattern.

Oh dear. 5 and 4 star reviews from Amazon accounts with no other reviews are terribly suspicious and never look good - anyone with a grain of sense would attribute them to Auel/family/friends/fanatics and that actually makes people have an even dimmer view of the book.


message 11: by Iset (last edited Jun 14, 2011 05:52AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset Here's my paragraph on the decline of the series as a whole, which I didn't get to put in the main review. This was my original opening paragraph which I was forced to cut down:

The Clan of the Cave Bear was a masterful character driven drama, if slightly plodding, an intensive study of both the nature of characters and relationships. The protagonist, Ayla, was a flawed and vulnerable girl possessed of genuinely admirable determination, existing in a very dangerous, brutal and unfair world which caused her to suffer real hardships and even be threatened with death on more than one occasion. The Land of Painted Caves is a poorly written, repetitive, tedious, unenjoyable mess. The pace of the book moves at a bare crawl, the plot doesn’t even show up until the last third of the novel and even then it’s a half-baked, implausible affair that’s essentially just a rehash of the plot of the third book. The protagonists are overpowered and boring, but even worse, in an attempt to inject some drama into this story, they act inconsistently and out-of-character with their previous incarnations, whilst a veritable tide of thinly-sketched secondary characters are introduced and never heard from again. How could the debut novel of the Earth’s Children series have been so good, whilst its finale is so bad? I genuinely enjoyed The Clan of the Cave Bear, perhaps a tad slow in places and certainly very descriptive, but a gripping tale that I tore through and ate up, and the huge cliffhanger that it ended on made me eager to read the sequels and discover how Ayla’s story would unfold. The problems began creeping in with the second book in the series; The Valley of Horses. Whilst still pretty good, Valley wasn’t up there with Clan; it lacked Clan’s tension and conflict, Ayla’s brace of revolutionary inventions started to hint at her turning into a special little button, the character of Jondalar was introduced who whilst handsome was pretty-but-thick-as-a-brick, and Ayla didn’t even achieve the goal she began the book with – finding her own people – until about three-quarters of the way in. In fact, and Ayla herself admits this in the series, for a lot of the time she just stayed put in her valley because she’d become comfortable with the routine, when really she should have been more proactive, as she was in Clan. Well, that was slightly disappointing, we told ourselves, but it was still pretty good and it was only a tad lacklustre and a bit of a dip, maybe the series would get back to its dramatic best in the third book. The Mammoth Hunters recaptured some of the character relationships that we loved by having Ayla adopted into a dynamic community of her own people, and some of the atmosphere of Upper Palaeolithic life too, but other problems began to crop up. The feisty, devious, occasionally mean Ayla from The Clan of the Cave Bear seemed to be replaced by a placid, biddable and naïve woman whose inventions, discoveries and talents were becoming so numerous that it was difficult to keep up. The plot was dominated by a clichéd but frustrating love triangle stemming from a big misunderstanding which ought to have been cleared up in short order but was instead strung out over several hundred pages. Tantalisingly interesting threads seemed to be hinted at and then nothing came of them. Then we had The Plains of Passage. Hundreds of passages of long, dry descriptions cranked up the tedium factor, whilst contrived interludes seemed engineered merely to act as a vehicle to show off how special Ayla and Jondalar were. Ayla by this time was a shadow of her former self, a flimsy cardboard cut-out whose only flaw was her inability to sing, a full blown Mary Sue riding in at the last hour and saving the day all whilst teaching the people she met the Error of Their Ways. Secondary characters barely got a look in, and the purple prose rose drastically whenever the two leads shared Pleasures, but their dialogue was strangely stilted and forced and you began to wonder why these two were together. There were a few exciting moments and vivid descriptions, such as the passage across the glacier, but the novel was more a cure for insomnia than a compelling page-turner. Then we got The Shelters of Stone. By this stage I didn’t hold out much hope that Shelters would blow me away, given how the series had been going slowly but steadily downhill, but I figured, hey, the protagonists had finally reached the destination they’d been aiming for since the second book, and previous novels had hinted at some juicy potential conflicts, plus a big destiny for Ayla – maybe Shelters would turn the series around, maybe Shelters would actually be good, as good as The Clan of the Cave Bear. It wasn’t. Shelters was the series’ new low point. The pace had gone from plodding to a virtual crawl, the repetition was interminable, the conflicts were all cleared up way too easily or just never flared up at all, Ayla’s perfection had turned her into a shell of her former self, and there was no plot to speak of. Shelters received not inconsiderable backlash from fans, but there was still one more book in the series to go, and many I suspect picked up The Land of Painted Caves just to round out their collections, find out what happened in the end to Ayla, and out of nostalgia for the good old days of Clan. The Land of Painted Caves was touted by publicity campaigns as "the bestseller of 2011". Instead the negative reaction from fans this time round has been overwhelming, Painted Caves has been condemned almost universally, and the word I have seen being thrown out there most often is "disappointing".


Victoria_Grossack Grossack Thanks for sharing the other paragraph.

I will admit that I have not read the book. I enjoyed the first two, tolerated the third, and got halfway through the fourth. I've paged through the fifth. With respect to the sixth, I had the first chapter sent to my Kindle - sampling is a really lovely feature - and although one could say "something happened" because there was a hunt, I thought there were so many flaws with respect to POV and plausibility, that I was not tempted to go any further. However, I love reading others' reviews.

Such a pity - it had so much potential.


message 13: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset It did, and that's the disappointing thing! There were actually a good few plots that this sixth book could have had which would have been so much more engaging and exciting than just... visiting caves, endless caves! *rubs temples*


message 14: by Lady (new) - rated it 1 star

Lady Your review is detailed, articulate, and thoughtful. You manage to list the very flaws in this book and in the series at large that drove me mad as well. I chose to take the sarcastic route with my review of LOPC, but the level of detail in your review is what I would have striven for if I'd gotten off my arse and write a proper review. :)


message 15: by Lady (new) - rated it 1 star

Lady Oops... I meant to write, "...if I'd gotten off my arse and written a proper review." :)


message 16: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset Thank you very much! felt passionately about this one because I'd loved the first book, which got me hooked on the series, but it felt like with every succeeding book it steadily declined, until with dismay we hit The Land of Painted Caves.


message 17: by Lady (new) - rated it 1 star

Lady I think a lot of readers were captivated by The Clan of the Cave Bear, and rudely disappointed by The Land of Painted Caves. The potential in the first installment was staggering, which is why the last book was such a slap in the face.

I just read the updates you posted as you read the book, by the way. They were chuckle-inducing. :)


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

This is a wonderful, detailed review. Thanks.


Victoria_Grossack Grossack May I say that the flaws that destroyed the series were actually apparent in the first book? Even in the first book, Ayla could do no wrong. She became expert at everything from medicine to Clan speech to hunting to swimming. Her personality, too, was basically perfect. She was nurturing and brave. This perfection could work in one book as she struggled against an unfamiliar environment (especially as a child) but could not sustain a series. It was lethal to the series.

Another problem was the level of detail. I expect that Auel's research continued and so she had even more details to share as the series grew.


message 20: by Lisa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lisa Vegan I was wondering how you could stand to make all those notes, but then realized at least it gave you something fun to do while you were reading. Great review.


message 21: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset Victoria - you are right, I agree 100%. It only worked in Clan of the Cave Bear because even though Ayla's character was talented she was vulnerable - a child in the midst of a big culture clash, and at stake was her own survival, life or death. The enjoyment in the first book - and I will still say that I did find book one an enjoyable read - derived from the risk and the conflict. But her overpoweredness just poisoned the rest of the series.

Thanks Ceridwen. And Lisa, you are right, it injected a little fun by keeping those tallies and posting notes! I couldn't stop reading though because it was an 661 page whopper and I only had it from the library for 21 days, so I force-read myself through it. Looking back at my old comments, yeah, I did it in 7 days and I was hitting between 80-100 pages per day. And when it's a book this bad those 80-100 pages are such a hard slog, honestly. I made myself start on each day's quota of pages first thing in the morning after getting up though, so I'd get them done, and only after that would I allow myself to do something fun!


message 22: by Lisa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lisa Vegan Ha! Your last comment says as much as this book as does your review.


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

I was forcing myself through 50 pages a sitting, and I couldn't make it farther than 250 pages or so. Such a shame.


message 24: by Lisa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lisa Vegan Ceridwen wrote: "I was forcing myself through 50 pages a sitting, and I couldn't make it farther than 250 pages or so. Such a shame."

And in my opinion it got worse, much worse.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

From the spoilers I've read, the dead dullness gives way to the plot of the Mammoth Hunters, which was a pretty terrible plot. Also, were you aware that a man's organ creates babies?


message 26: by Lisa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lisa Vegan Ceridwen wrote: "From the spoilers I've read, the dead dullness gives way to the plot of the Mammoth Hunters, which was a pretty terrible plot. Also, were you aware that a man's organ creates babies?"

Ha! Oh, it's even worse. I only vaguely remember this book, thank goodness, but there was one completely jump the shark part and other parts that were too bad to be so bad it's funny. Ugh.


message 27: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset I told myself I was doing a public service.

Occasionally I still muse over this book series. Clan of the Cave Bear had a few problems but I enjoyed it, I don't mind saying. I give it a solid 7 out of 10. And the problem was that it drew me into the rest of the series. Little did I know how bad it would get. Valley of Horses was so-so... when I read it at the time the issues were becoming more glaring, but I thought maybe it was just a dip and it'd be back to the good stuff in book 3. Again - so wrong. 3 and 4 were baaaaaad, and 5 and 6 just downright awful. What baffles me is firstly, that it could have been so much better, and secondly, that whilst books 5 and 6 were pretty widely panned, many people seem to genuinely think books 2, 3, and 4 were good. Really?! Perfect Palaeolithic Princess Ayla and her Man Hunk Jondalar Have Flawless Bland Sex, Invent Everything, and Teach People That Neanderthals Are People Too? Really, people think that was good? I honestly don't understand that.


Crystal Starr Light I just reread this review and had to say it again: awesome. This review is pure gold.

Wasn't it this series that introduced us? I almost miss the days of reading this - this was a beautiful snarky read, to be honest.


message 29: by Iset (new) - rated it 1 star

Iset I think it was, you know. And then I discovered you liked Star Wars too and it went from there.


Crystal Starr Light Isis wrote: "I think it was, you know. And then I discovered you liked Star Wars too and it went from there."

That it did!! I am ever so glad we met over these books - the wonders of the Internet and Goodreads!! :)


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