Tracy's Reviews > The Plains of Passage

The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel
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's review
Jan 24, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: read-and-liked-it

The fourth installment in Jean M. Auel's great Ice Age saga the Earth's Children series is The Plains of Passage, which tells of Ayla and Jondalar's epic journey across Europe. Aided by the horses domesticated by Ayla and her pet wolf, the duo hunt and gather their way westward. They encounter people that Jondalar met on his first journey eastward as well as meeting new people. Some of them are friendly and others are terrifyingly criminal.

Auel continues to craft and develop her core characters of Ayla and Jondalar with her usual brilliance. The drama in this narrative is not driven so much by misunderstandings and conflicts between the lovers as in previous books, but rather focuses on the challenges the couple must overcome on their great journey. Perilous river crossings, flash floods, swarms of insects, stampeding horse herds, and brutal glaciers threaten their lives continually. Their daring crossing of a big glacier near the end of the book provides a tense climax to the novel.

An often stated criticism of The Plains of Passage is that it focuses too much on describing the plants, animals, and landscapes of the story. Although I read this series precisely because I like to imagine the world as it once was and how prehistoric humans survived, I must agree that the botanical, zoological, and geological reports were overdone in the narrative. This was especially annoying when it interrupted the flow of compelling action in which I was worried about what would happen to the characters.

Admittedly the novel is slow during the first half, but I understand how challenging it is to write a fast-paced adventure when two people are traveling across mostly empty territory. However, at the middle of the book, a really good story emerges that kept me up late reading. To avoid many spoilers, I will say this: Jondalar is kidnapped by a psychopathic Amazon!

Auel's great insights into humanity come through marvelously in the novel once Ayla and Jondalar start encountering people who are criminally deviant. Their brutality shocks Ayla and Jondalar who are good people driven by the concept of nuturing the common good. When the author explored the darker side of humanity in the story it was both fascinating and refreshing. Often in the saga, Auel had presented nearly Utopian societies in which people worked cooperatively with respect between genders, especially in the previous novel. These well ordered societies with matriarchal structures were beautiful to contemplate, but we all know things do not always go perfectly. The deviants presented in The Plains of Passage offered a good counterpoint and examined how things can go wrong in a society.

This novel also contained encounters with people of the Clan (Neanderthals). Because Ayla had been raised by this separate form of humans, she has a completely different perspective of them than most of the other humans who consider them animals. This is often a source of friction, even dismay, when people learn that Ayla grew up with them, but Ayla's goodness and power always prevail. I had expected more interaction with the Clan people in the novel, but the author did portray forced interbreeding and killing that humans likely perpetuated on their Neanderthal cousins.

Overall, this is a strong novel that challenged me to ponder humanity in its ancient setting as well as consider its current character. Even when the novel was draggy, I kept reading because Ayla is such a compelling and sympathetic character. She is also an example of a good person and therefore a genuine heroine. The Plains of Passage is a satisfying read and definitely ended on a note that will prompt me to read the next book.
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Reading Progress

January 24, 2009 – Shelved
Started Reading
March 26, 2010 – Shelved as: read-and-liked-it
March 26, 2010 – Finished Reading

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