Earth’s Children Series Book Reviews Part 3
For ease of reading and writing, my book reviews of the Earth’s Children Series by Jean M Auel have been broken down into three parts. In part 1 of my review of the Earth’s Children Series I expressed my admiration for this series as a whole and gave my book review of the first book in this series, The Clan of the Cave Bear. In part 2, I review books 2, 3, and 4 of the series: The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, and The Plains of Passage.
Here, in part 3, I will be reviewing books 5 and 6 of the Earth’s Children Series:
Depending on who you talk to, these last two books are the ones that either make or break the whole series. When I first read The Shelter’s of Stone, before The last book came out, I was interested. I enjoyed the book but still thought that the previous books were better and thought that you really could go without.
It took me a long time to get around to reading The Land of Painted Caves, and when I read that I had read all the previous books before diving into the last book, which I’m happy I did because it made me appreciate the series as a whole a lot more because all the juicy details were fresh in my mind.
So onto the reviews…
The Shelter’s of Stone
I’m kind of on the fence about giving this book four stars. I didn’t like it as much as the previous books, but it also wasn’t “just ok.” You know what I mean? When you go through the Plains of Passage, meeting Jondalar’s people is like the ultimate carrot on the stick. You want to know these people, know how he grew up, get to the destination. You want Ayla and Jondalar to start their life together. That certainly happens here.
As with all of Auel’s books, the archeological and anthropological information is superb and the idea of learning about Paleolithic France is kind of cool. My favorite aspect of the book is the complex life and social structure of the Zelandoni. The social structure of the Mamutoi was complex but the Zelandoni is so much more so that Auel spends more time explaining the society than any other aspect of the story.
The Story Seen Through My Writer’s Lens
This book really doesn’t work as a stand alone novel. It relies too heavily on the reader’s investment in the series as a whole. By itself the book is rather boring, there’s no over arching conflict that consumes the characters, which is the reason why I tend to lean more toward a 3 star versus a 4 star review. If you didn’t already know who the hero and heroin were and invested in their individual struggles that brought them to this point, the story would land flat.
What really makes this novel enjoyable is the meeting Jondalar’s family, finally getting to see the people that Jondalar comes from, and finally getting to see Ayla and Jondalar get married.
This novel is a strongly character driven story. The plot is almost nonexistent because our hero and heroin have made it to their destination, there’s no place for them to go, their only goal is to get married and have a family. So the bulk of the plot surrounds Ayla being accepted by the Zelandoni. How is her rank going to be determined? Jondalar is the son of a former leader, how does that fit into the scheme of the two getting married? Can people take our hero and heroin at their word that Ayla is of high rank?
There are a lot of good scenes that cause conflict, but many of the conflicts involved more petty jealousies, obsessions, or misunderstanding. This made it feel like the conflicts were either easily overcome or simply never resolved. Sure what was experienced is pretty true to real life, but there wasn’t anything that was a major plot driver. The nice thing about it was that the social interactions felt believable, the people in the story felt like real people with real problems and true to real life sometimes conflicts are never really resolved. Due to the fact that the population of the Zelandoni was so much more than any other peoples seen previously in the series, there could be a lot more subversive conflicts. Most of the interpersonal conflicts that were introduced in this novel were not resolves and continued into the next even though the overall acceptance of Ayla was achieved.
Ayla’s Character Arc
As I said before, much of the book revolves around the Zelandoni accepting Ayla as Jondalar’s future wife. Ayla herself worries about being acceptable and hopes that she didn’t make a mistake by leaving people she knows who love and accept her. She also worries about being “called by the Mother” or being called into spiritual service. Her biggest personal conflict is that she only wants to have a family with Jondalar, not have the responsibilities of being a spiritual leader.
Many of her struggles not only stem from her abnormal childhood, but just the simple fact that she has skills that make her different than the normal social structure causes strain with some people within the society.
Jondalar’s Character Arc
There really wasn’t a significant character arc for Jondalar within the pages of The Shelters of Stone. Sure he had his own conflicts, but they were very petty in the scheme of things. There was never a time when he didn’t want to marry Ayla or take responsibility of her child. His biggest conflict was dealing with the woman he had tentatively promised to marry when he left on his journey five years before.
For Jondalar it was more about convincing his family and his people that he and Ayla had something to offer them and that it was to the society’s benefit to accept Ayla and adopt her as a Zelandoni.
We learn a lot more detail about Jondalar’s past here and what happened before he left for his journey with his little brother Thonolan. It’s a lot of information that a reader who’s invested in the story would want to know.
Gushing or Lack of Gushing
My favorite part of this book were the scenes leading up to Ayla and Jondalar’s marriage and the marriage itself. For me it was a happy closure to finally see the moment when Ayla gives Jondalar the matrimonial tunic she made for him in The Mammoth Hunters and painstakingly smuggled through their year long journey in The Plains of Passage. That was the best piece of closure for the other stories. I found this scene so profound because it reminds the characters how strong Ayla’s feelings have always been and still are. It shows their connection and reminds Jondalar how much he has to appreciate.
Honestly, the rest of the book is just one information over load after another, which, don’t get me wrong, is totally interesting in a I-love-watching-the-History-Channel kind of way. The relationships within the story were authentic and believable, but it left me wondering if it was too true to real life to be a little unsatisfying as a reader.
The Land of Painted Caves
The last book of the Earth’s Children series follows as Ayla becomes a spiritual leader among the Zelandoni. This book is the culmination of Ayla’s spiritual journey over the course of the series and the beginning of man’s next step in awareness. The people learn a crucial fact of nature through Ayla that will bring humanity into the reality as we understand today.
To be honest, this overarching spiritual awakening is the only reason I didn’t give this book a 2 out of 5 star rating. The concept is so amazing and yet the execution fell totally flat and unsatisfying. Perhaps again this story was a bit too true to real life versus what we want to see in stories, which is that the characters grow and overcome their obstacles not see people who makes the same mistakes over and over again.
The Story Seen Through My Writer’s Lens
Unfortunately the execution of this book was not as good as the others from a story perspective. The story as a whole lacked substance.
There was still the amazing technical details about the land, the people, and most importantly the painted caves that all readers of this series hold their breath to see. The problem that I had was that the book was a bit too technical and relied heavily on cliche, artificial conflicts to keep the reader’s interest. At one point in the book I felt like I was reading a corny Western with bandits and gun slingers (but of course these were not gun slingers, they were wrestlers and knife fighters).
There was also a lot of reexplaining of information from the rest of the series; which makes sense when it happens occasionally but in this case it happened way too much and often the same information was repeated several times within the novel. There were also many loose ends that were created during The Shelters of Stone that were either left unresolved or hastily wrapped up at the end of The Land of Painted Caves that the series ending felt abrupt and unsatisfying.
Although the primary storyline was about how Ayla’s spiritual training was applying a strain on her relationship with Jondalar and their daughter it turned into some strange, mutated version of The Mammoth Hunter’s plot with a lot of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and a dash of jealousy. This made me feel like our hero and heroin never really learned their lesson the first go around even though the author tried to make it about jealousy. Yes, I know that this is close to real life — many people have to go through the same struggles over and over again before they get the point, but I’m not reading this story to read about real life I want something less contrived. This aspect of the plot bothered me so much because the reader is lead to believe that Ayla and Jondalar “know” each other and this story made me feel like they’ve forgotten not only who they are but who their partner is. Sure people change, but if the point is to demonstrate the intricacies of married life and how it can change people, then it could have been done better. By the end of the novel I felt like they were back at the place they were at the end of The Mammoth Hunters instead of a couple who have been married for many years.
Ayla’s Character Arc
I’m very conflicted about the progression of Ayla’s Character Arc within this novel. There are aspects that I like about it and those that I didn’t.
Ayla is becoming and embracing her role as a spiritual leader of the Zelandoni within the pages of The Land of Painted Caves. Her acceptance of this training changes her in unexpected ways. Her relationship with Jondalar and her daughter is strained because her training demands so much of her time.
She compromises many of the rituals that she held dear from her upbringing in lieu of the rituals of the Zelandoni. The change is slow, but consistent. She no longer wears the amulet that she always carried, she didn’t cleans herself in the same ways, she’d replace certain tools with more “modern” tools. The interesting aspect of this transformation is that there is a moving away from the “totem” aspect of spiritual belief to an acceptance of the “The Great Earth Mother” spiritual belief. But at the same time this lack of respect of the older ways creates a danger for Ayla in which only “love,” the most basic of all spiritual power is able to save her. This whole concept is pretty cool — showing that love has the power to move mountains and make the impossible possible, but the execution felt so contrived and forced. For sure there was supposed to be some kind of demonstration of the All Mighty here, but I felt that the message was easily lost amidst the context.
In the end, Ayla gains new knowledge, but it’s left hanging what’s really going to be done with that knowledge.
Jondalar’s Character Arc
I felt that Jondalar’s character arc was sacrificed for the sake of the series’s climax. I’ve never read a novel where the hero was thrown back to the beginning at the climax of a series. It’s one thing if the series is about the character’s fall, but this is not the case here.
If felt like he was used as a tool for the sake of the overall series story arch and used as a tool to demonstrate Ayla’s deviation from her path. In my mind Jondalar was a teenager in a man’s body at the end instead of a grown man. I felt extremely conflicted and dissatisfied by the end of this novel.
Gushing or Lack of Gushing
Seeing the painted caves through the eyes of these characters are probably the closest I’ll ever come to actually seeing those amazing painted caves in France, which I’ve wanted to see ever since first reading this series (note that the caves are closed to the public). But seeing one set of caves in the book was enough, once you saw one you saw them all. Now if it was a movie or documentary, I’d probably feel differently.
I am still conflicted on whether or not to recommend to everyone to read the book. I certainly think if you are in love with the series as I am that it’s worth the read with the knowledge that you could be emotionally let down at the end. I say to read the book because it’s nice to see how the series ends spiritually. This is the moment when man kind is making the next step. Even though it’s not explicitly stated, it is here that the people make their first step toward a patriarchal society. It’s when people begin to realize that babies are born by both man and woman that the seed of equal value is planted. And in another interpretation this power of love that saves Ayla at the end of the novel can be said to be The Almighty (the thought of a single god). So it’s an interesting evolution that is being witnessed, even though as I’ve said countless times, the execution could have been better.
But If you’re not interested in such speculation then I would probably leave the series at The Plains of Passage and leave it at that.
Have you read any of the Earth’s Children books, especially The Land of Painted Caves? Leave a comments, I’d love to chat. I’d especially enjoy your perspective on The Land of Painted Caves.