This review is based upon an advance copy I received from Amazon Vine. There is always the hope that an editor will be allowed free rein and the final edition may vary from the copy I read.
The first part of this book picks up the story of Ayla and Jondalar left off in the last book, The Shelters of Stone. Still living with Jondalar’s family, Ayla is training as an acolyte to the First Among Those Who Serve and hopes to receive a calling to become a Zelandoni (a wise woman/healer of sorts). Ayla and Jondalar join the rest of the members of the Ninth Cave for the Summer Meeting, and spend lots and lots of time visiting with new and old friends. Each time Ayla is introduced to someone new we get to hear the looooooooooooong list of her proper titles all over again. We also get plenty of back history on returning characters, both major and minor ones, as well as lengthy refreshers on Ayla and Jondalar’s adventures from the previous five books. The Summer Meeting ends and the members of the Ninth Cave return home.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Part II begins several years later as Ayla, Jondalar and The One Who Serves First (the leader of the Zelandoni and Ayla’s mentor) prepare for a long journey so that Ayla can see the painted caves. Many many pages are spent telling the reader about the minute details of preparing for a journey. The reader is also treated to a prehistoric version of Map Questing the proposed trail – over hill and dale, north along this river, cross here and south along the other one. The great journey begins and our merry band travels from one cave to the next, with lots of introductions and more rounds of hearing everyone’s proper titles. Our band must also stop to hunt between cave visits, so we get to hear about how to hunt, throw spears, nap flint and other cool stuff. They make visits to the various painted caves and the reader gets very thorough descriptions of said caves. Just in case you
skimmed missed it the first time, Ayla makes a second trip to one of the caves so you can hear about it all over again. You will be glad to know that Wolf relieved himself of solid waste in one of the painted caves. Why we needed to know that I’m not sure, but rest assured he did :).
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Nodding off yet? I sure was…
Part III takes place in the next year as Ayla is finishing up her training as an acolyte and hopes to receive her calling to be a Zelandoni. Her training is very time-consuming, leading to some *marital* tensions and a Big Misunderstanding (you can figure out where this goes lickety split). Ayla drinks some special tea, has some big LSD kind of trip that ends with a huge revelation from The Earth Mother about The Gift of the Knowledge of Life. Ayla then joins the rest of her family for another Summer Meeting, culminating in a festival to honor the Earth Mother wherein Ayla’s big gift is shared with the rest of the people, leading to big long discussions about the implications of said discovery. Pages and pages of looooong discussions. There are also a couple of baddies who conspire here and there to keep our lovers apart.
Sooooo, just what can you expect to find in this book? Let me detail it for you in case you are still interested,
- Lots of back-history and exposition so don’t bother rereading the first five books, it’s all taken care of for you in this one. Over and over and over again.
- The descriptions of the day-to-day details are very long-winded and repeated often. I really didn’t need to learn about what went into Ayla’s latest batch of tea on every other page.
- You will learn about the paintings in the caves, although to be honest I found reading from Wik and the official sites much more interesting.
- Their daughter Jonayla is as perfect as her parents, and even as an infant was smart enough to hold her water until she was out of her carrying blanket. You will be informed of this at least three times in the Part I, just to make sure you don’t forget it. I never did learn how #2 was handled ;)
- As for the perfection that is Ayla and Jondalar? Barbie and Ken.
All kidding aside, this is not a terrible novel, it is merely suffering from the lack of an editor with a big red pencil. The repetition is so over done to the point I felt I was being clubbed over the head – I am smart enough to figure it out the first time. On top of that, Auel slipped in too many *modern* words that really pulled me out of the story. Now I know it isn’t possible to recreate an ancient language that would be readable to us mere mortals, but at the same time I didn’t need Ayla using words like earthquake, soporific and epicanthic fold either. Wait, this is an advance copy so perhaps the red pencil guy will fix these…
Nah. If you enjoyed the slow pace of Shelters of Stone and want an entire rehash of that all over again, I guess you’ll love this, but if you’re looking for something with a bit more action you will not find it here. Will you find the resolution to A&J’s story that you were hoping for? You know I can’t tell you that, but I for one was sorely disappointed.