The Land of Painted Caves
Having read the previous five books of this series, I looked forward to this sixth volume, expected to be the final one and a culmination of what went before. The Earth’s Children series tells the story of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon woman orphaned as a child and raised by Neanderthals. She must eventually leave them and find her own people. In this volume, we find Ayla comfortably ensconced with a Cro-Magnon group, married with a child, and preparing to become a spiritual leader. If you have read the previous books you may find a certain pleasure just in spending time with Ayla and her friends in the fictional world that Jean M. Auel has so carefully constructed. But like the previous volume, this one is lacking in plot—at least until the last 200 pages of this very long novel.
There are some exciting episodes—Ayla’s confrontation with a cave lion at the beginning, for example. But there is no building tension carried through the work as a whole. Even the marital difficulties between Ayla and her husband, which give the last chapters some drama, are downplayed. The problem may be that having created a perfect prehistoric world for Ayla, in which people have enlightened views on a whole range of subjects—among them women’s roles—Auel is unwilling to have real danger and conflict intrude. I had hoped in this final volume the Neanderthal clan that raised Ayla would reappear. I would have given a great deal for a stage entrance by the infamous, male chauvinist Neanderthal Broud, or Ayla’s half Neanderthal son. No luck. Ayla glimpses them both in a mystical vision, but that’s it. Compared to the truly wonderful first volumes of this series, the end—if this is really it—is a letdown.