Earth’s Children #5: Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel

Read: 7 March, 2013

In Shelters of Stone, Ayla and Jondalar have reached the land of the Zelandonii and Ayla must find her place among her new people.

As in books #2-4, Ayla is pretty much the most awesomest person ever. I lost count early on of how many times the reader is reminded that Ayla is totally gorgeous, and how many times other characters reflect on how amazing and wonderful and perfect she is.

The trouble is that the narrator makes these claims about things that we can verify for ourselves, and the things that the narrator says and the things that the narrator describes don’t always match up. For example, we’re reminded several times about Ayla’s fantastic memory, yet we’re shown her forgetting several things – things that I, with my pathetic ordinary memory, had been able to remember. For example, she forgets what she’s been told about the Zelandoni of the 14th cave’s prior issues with Zolena and has to be given the information a second time.

Another example would be when Zolena decides to start talking to Ayla about becoming Zelandoni while Ayla is trying to care for someone she cares very much about who has been gravely injured (no spoilers!), despite knowing that the idea of becoming Zelandoni is very distressing to Ayla. So even though we’re told that Zolena has a way with people, she seems to pick the absolute worst times to approach sensitive subjects.

And there’s a reason for the repetition. Ayla, as the foreigner, is the reader’s surrogate into the Zelandonii people. She conveniently forgets details for the reader’s benefit, not because it’s what her character would actually do. And this reflects Auel’s general lack of trust in her readers. Given the length of time between publication dates, I can understand Auel feeling that she needs to repeat details from previous novels – she can’t expect everyone to have read them in a fairly short period of time, as I have. But she repeats details from earlier in the same novel, as well. She seems to assume that her readers are incapable of remembering even important details. I don’t know if she was getting paid by the word or just genuinely thinks that her readers are idiots, but it made me feel rather insulted – and bored.

There’s less sex in this book than there was in Plains of Passage. In fact, there wasn’t a sex scene at all until all the way into chapter 5! This works with the plot, of course, because Ayla and Jondalar are now around people most of the time and can’t just drop trou and boink whenever they feel like it.

There is, however, plenty of lists about plants and animals that read more like encyclopaedia entries than parts of a narrative story. But it works. It’s what’s I expect from an Auel novel and I do enjoy the information she provides.

I find that Jondalar, in his exuberant monogamy (which is out of place in his cultural context) , makes me rather nervous. And Ayla’s focus on her theory about how pregnancy happens kinda feels like the big reveal in the next book is going to be “Ayla invents patriarchy.” I mean, yes, she’s biologically correct. But she seems to really be stuck thinking about her theory, and in this book, a social conclusion is introduced. Jondalar is having this existential crisis because women are the ones who have babies, so he feels useless, and the procreation theory is starting to take on a “don’t worry, we need men, too!” spin. I’ll just have to wait and see what Auel does with it, but it makes me nervous.

Anyways, I’m inching my way towards the finish line and just have one more book left in the series to read!

Buy The Shelters of Stone from Amazon and support this blog!

Continue reading

The Gathering Night by Margaret Elphinstone

Read: 31 October, 2010

One night, Bakar disappeared. His family is left alone, with only an old man to hunt for them. But then a stranger appears with a story of a great wave that killed his people, and this sets in motion a series of interweaving stories, told by the many voices of the People.

Set in prehistoric Scotland, The Gathering Night is a story about survival, as well as a community’s attempts to heal itself after a tragedy.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but to compare this novel to Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series. I think it might be blasphemy to say this, but I found that Elphinstone actually did a better job. Both authors try to convey a lot of “land knowledge” in their books, explaining the various things that can be eaten for example. But while Auel simply lists them in page after page of plant names, Elphinstone builds it right into the story.

The story itself is captivating. I’ve been very critical of books with multiple narrators in the past, but it works in this case. The set up for telling the story is plausible, and the narrative voices are distinct enough to feel like the story is really being told by several different people (but not so much that it feels like a gimmick).

All in all, I’d say this is a very worthwhile read. It preserves all off the appeal of prehistoric novels while avoiding many of the flaws.

Buy The Gathering Night from Amazon to support this blog!

Earth’s Children #3: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel

Read: 13 July, 2010

Leaving the valley, Ayla and Jondalar decide to spend the winter with the mammoth hunters, the Mamutoi. During the long winter, they are estranged and Ayla encounters a strange man with dark skin. The tribe’s shaman, Mamut, recognizes power in Ayla and adopts her into his hearth to begin her training.

Ayla has been something of a Mary Sue from the beginning, but it really comes out in this book. She has everything – the ability to hunt, the ability to be a shaman, perfect beauty, great strength, etc. She and Jondalar seem to be single-handedly responsible for inventing far more than seems plausible for just two people.

Ayla and Jondalar refuse to communicate, preferring instead to simply assume what the other must be thinking. As a result, they spend most of the winter angry at each other and wondering if the other still loves them. I find this kind of romance to be incredibly frustrating to read, because the obstacles are purely of their own making.

It was also a little disconcerting when Jondalar rapes Ayla, but we’re supposed to continue thinking of him as a good character because he only did it because he really really loves her and it’s okay anyway because she wanted it. Somehow, this makes it okay (even though she never consented and he believed, at the time, that he was raping her). Bit of a skewed moral sense there.

The book wasn’t totally bad. Learning about the Mamutoi was interesting, and Ayla’s interaction with Rydag (a half-Clan half-Other child) was excellent to read.

Buy The Mammoth Hunters from Amazon to support this blog!

Continue reading

Earth’s Children #1: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Read: 17 April, 2010

By far the best in the Earth’s Children series (I’ve now completed book 4), Clan of the Cave Bear is also the most content-dense. While the next three books will cover a fairly short piece of the saga each, mixed in with a whole lot of filler, Cave Bear tells a much larger chunk of the story.

A little girl named Ayla is orphaned when an earthquake takes her mother, but is adopted by Iza and Creb (medicine woman and Mog-ur, or shaman, of the Clan). The Clan is different from Ayla’s people, a different branch of the human tree, and Ayla must learn to fit in with people who learn by unlocking ancestral memories, and who have clearly defined gender roles. But Ayla has been chosen by the Cave Lion, a powerful totem who can help her survive with her new family.

The story is an interesting one. It goes beyond mere culture clash and into the realm of interspecies exchange. The Clan are different, physically, in the way they learn and in the way they communicate, and Ayla is reminded of that difference at every turn. But unlike many a space traveller, she was orphaned as a very young child and has no memories of her own culture, no previous imprinting to give her confidence when she comes into conflict with Clan ways. Instead, she is a blank slate that must bend itself into culture it was not designed for.

It’s a beautiful story with plenty of conflict and a good dose of love and hope. Ayla, though something of a Mary Sue, is still sufficiently endearing for me to root for her.

Buy The Clan of the Cave Bear from Amazon to support this blog!

Continue reading

The Foretelling by Alice Hoffman

Read: 25 September, 2008

I bought this book on a whim. I had never heard of it or of the author, but Chapters was selling it for pennies, so I figured it was worth the risk.

I’m glad I took the chance. It’s a great book. It breaks several of the cardinal rules of writing (telling instead of showing, for an obvious example), but it does it well. The story is interesting and fast-paced, making it a quick read. It would have had to have been hundreds of pages long had Hoffman tried to cover the same amount of ground by “showing,” and I do believe that she made the right choice.

This is obviously a Young Adult novel, but it deals with several mature themes such as sex (both consensual and non-) and war. However, Hoffman treats these subjects as “facts,” without dwelling on them graphically as some authors do. These are just part of Rain’s world. This is not to mention the tough concepts of love, responsibility, compassion, being one’s self, feminism/patriarchy, etc. that are brought up. They are handled in a way that would be acceptable for a young teen or tween to read, while also serving the purpose of opening discourse on such subjects.

This isn’t to say that the book was perfect. There are times when I would have liked certain areas to be explored more deeply. The ending, for example, tells of several important and life-altering events taking place without, I felt, giving them due consideration. The book works, but I feel that it might have been improved a little by slowing down the narrative pace at certain moments and describing certain events in more detail. I also would have liked a context: as the novel is written in the first person, it would have been nice to know who Rain is telling her story to.

Still, these are very minor complaints to a book that, overall, was a very enjoyable rainy-afternoon read with an uplifting message.

Buy The Foretelling from Amazon to support this blog!