October 08, 2011
The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel
The Land of the Painted Caves is the eagerly awaited sixth and final book in the Earth's Children series. While its possible this book could be read as a stand alone, I wouldn't advise it and instead suggest that a reader start at the first book, The Clan of the Cave Bear. For those who aren't familiar with the Earth's Children's series (and this could be a spoiler) Ayla was a little girl who was adopted by a clan of Neanderthals and raised in their ways. When later she has to leave them and her son behind, she finds a valley where she lives alone for awhile and makes unlikely friends with a horse and lion. She is lonely though and happy when a man named Jondalar comes to her valley and they fall in love. They stay with a tribe of people called the Mamutoi for awhile but Jondalar yearns to go to his home far to the West and they make a dangerous journey back there. Once there, Ayla is quickly accepted into the Zelandonii but they want more of her. As the fifth book ends she decides to become an acolyte of the Zelandoni (spiritual leaders and healers).
This book starts a little later and is separated into three parts. The first two are mainly about her taking a small journey to visit different caves of the Zelandonii and learn their special purposes. It also shows a little of the time spent with Jondalar and her daughter Jonayla and a series of years pass during this time. The third part of the novel takes place while she is finishing her training as an acolyte and deals with her discoveries while doing so. Since this is a highly anticipated book, I hesitate to describe the plot further and ruin it for anyone.
The characters in this book are rather weak. Jondalar turns out to be a complete jerk and I really can't fathom why Auel wrote him the way she did in this book. I was vastly disappointed. Ayla, while finally showing some flaws loses some of her likability in this book and I had a hard time connecting to her like I could in previous books. Poor Jonayla, while she probably should have been an important character, was left largely undescribed and even when there are scenes with her, they don't use her to her full potential. The rest of the characters are just so-so to me.
This book had the feel of Shelters of Stone which was also a book I didn't care too much for in the series. It had the same ever present Mother Poem repeated over and over just like the previous book and also the endless renditions of titles. The description that was so wonderful in the early books just made this one drag on and on as they explored the many caves of the first two parts and after awhile I felt myself trying to skim the book as I just didn't care about another cave painting followed by the Mother poem. That being said, I actually did enjoy the third part of this novel and that was what saved it from having an even lower star rating from me It at least was exciting and had some plot to it. As an aside, there are graphic sex scenes in this novel and some readers may want to exercise caution because of it.
To wait this long for the finale of a series (it took over 30 years for all the books to come out) and then have the quality be like this was disappointing. While I appreciate knowing the ending of Jondalar and Ayla's tale, I was left with quite a bit of dissatisfaction and almost wish the series would have ended with the third or fourth book. Those who are die hard fans of the series but didn't like the fifth book will probably share my feelings about this novel and should be warned.
Book 1: The Clan of the Cave Bear
Book 2: The Valley of Horses
Book 3: The Mammoth Hunters
Book 4: The Plains of Passage
Book 5: The Shelters of Stone
The Land of Painted Caves