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The Land of Painted Caves is the last book in Jean M. Auel's "Earth's Children" series, a six-book story aout prehistoric earth, the conflict between Cro-magnon man and Neanderthal man, and survival in the early days of humanity. I started reading this series when I was at school, and bought this book to see how it ended. I wish I hadn't.
The series is told through the eyes of Ayla, a Cro-Magnon woman raised by the Clan (Neanderthals) and her journey to find her own people. In this, this final book, she is settled with the tribe, training to be one of their spiritual leaders, with a mate and child.
The problem with reviewing this is that the book has no real over-arching plot or goal. Ayla is training to be a spiritual guide, travelling to caves, viewing paintings and raising her daughter. This sequence happens over and over again, occassionally broken by small problems, almost immediately overcome. There is a lot of repetition, even of entire passages within the same book. We get to see different people make the same observations each time they meet the main characters, and as we, the readers, already know this it gets tedious. To the surprise of no one Ayla does actually become a spiritual leader, but this is secondary to the actual ending which is badly written, annoying and very disappointing for the reader.
There are also serious structural problems with this book. Plot threads appear and disappear without warning, and sometimes without resolution. In other cases, plot threads that should be ongoing are resolved almost the moment they appear. The most baffling bit is between two parts of the book there is a four year time jump, with no warning. There is no real reason for this - in fact the entire first section with Ayla's child as a baby could have been written with her as a young girl with no real change. The section before the jump only really seems to be there to show how Ayla took care of her baby. Otherwise the events then have minimal effect on the longer plot. Several of the things skipped during that time jump and mentioned later e.g. Wolf's attack on a Zelandonii tribesman, would have been more interesting to see play out.
The characters appear to have been simplified - Jondalar's jealousy has been played up, and Ayla's tendency to discover new ideas has slowed and virtually vanished. While this is partly a relief, that inventive native was part of the character and it seems strange to see it gone. The only time she does change things, toward the end, I wished she hadn't.
The ending, is unfortunately a classic case of "Nice job breaking it, hero" and made me want to throw the book against the wall. I'm not joking.
What I can praise about this book is the research. The amount of detail on caves, cave painting, sacred rites of primitive peoples, and day-to-day life is staggering. The caves are vividly described, and real places - the author travelled to the actual caves to see the paintings herself, and has studied extensively to make these as realistic and accurate as possible.
I wish, I really wish I could say I enjoyed this book. Instead it left me rather bored, finishing only because I really wanted it to improve. It didn't. If you are following the series, you might want to pick it up to get the story's official end. Otherwise, don't bother.
A much better book is the author's Clan of the Cave Bear, the one that started the series, and that one I would reccommend. The Land of Painted Caves, to my great regret, I cannot.
The land of the painted caves is the sixth and final book in the Earth children's series of books by American author Jean M Auel. It ends the story of Ayla and Jondalar and is set in pre-historic France about 30,000 years ago.
I along with a huge number of readers read the first novel in the series The Clan of Cave Bear starting with Ayla displacement from her people and adoption by Neanderthals. The book is one of the best and is a personal favourite of this reader; the book was followed by five other books charting the events of Ayla's life. In it she meets a tall blond man called Jondalar who was travelling with his brother, his brother is killed by Ayla's cave lion and in treating Jondalar fall in love. Jondalar persuades Ayla to travel back to his people and the fifth novel tells the story of this journey. This novel Plains of Passage came out in the late Eighties and the fifth novel was promised however there was a delay in publishing of around 15 years before the fifth novel was published. This novel was very poorly received and it was with trepidation I began the sixth and final novel in the series.
Main characters and setting
Ayla is a young beautiful blond woman with long legs and an intelligent curious nature, she has a daughter Jonayla and has a tame horse and wolf.
Jondalar is Ayla's husband, tall, blond and good looking and a leader of the Zelandonii.
The book is set in northern Europe somewhere in the North West France and is based around a group of people called the Zelandonii, they live in many different caves in and around the area. They live in caves whose names are numbers for example the first cave, seventh cave etc.
The Land of the Painted Caves
The previous novel ended with the birth of Jonayla and the acceptance of Ayla as a kind of medicine woman. She appears to be ready for training as a type of wise woman and has been taken under the wings of the senior wise woman called the first. This novel is her journey around the various caves and her introduction to the mysteries of the supernatural to become the new wise woman of the ninth cave. She travels around from cave to cave meeting people, visiting cave paintings and communing with the spirits of the Elders. Along with her are her daughter, her husband and a few of their close friends, family, the horse and the wolf.
After struggling to finish the novel I have come to the conclusion that Jean M Auel has lost grip with reality and has lost any sense of dramatic tension or building a plotline with any kind of interest to the reader. The book is structured in a manner which takes Ayla and the rest around the various caves of the Zelandonii, as they move along they encounter people and Ayla visits places of interest.
The problem is the repetition, every cave we go through the same series of events, they arrive, the people are astonished by Ayla's beauty and slightly odd accent, they coo over Jonayla, are astonished by her ability to tame a horse and a wolf. Then they drink tea, talk about that caves particular reason for being there and then tell Ayla of a cave of interest nearby. We visit the cave, see cave paintings, Ayla gains an insight and expands her knowledge. Sounds interesting and for the first time it is, but Ayla visits cave after cave, the same each time, she's beautiful, she talks funny, look she's tamed a horse, Jondalar he's tall handsome, look a cave painting.
After a while the reader gets tired of this repetition, ok we get the point Ayla and Jondalar are two hotties wandering around pre-history France. Everywhere they go everyone is amazed by their perfection, look they know everything, they are hot, sexy, intelligent, every 100 pages or so they have hot sex, they are compassionate, they can ride a horse, look they are hot, they are sexy, let's have sex, look a cave painting, doesn't Ayla talk funny, she has knowledge of the Neanderthals, let's have hot sex, ok you get the point.
After reading this dirge and finding after 400 pages that the book has no plot, nothing happens and you wish for some blood, a battle or something exciting to happen. You know you're in trouble when the baby is almost attacked by a wild wolf and the reader is hoping the wolf kills the baby just to develop some dramatic tension. But know the wolf is killed, Ayla sympathises with the wolf for being driven to kill because of the harshness of the environment, she tells Jondalar, he wraps his arms around her and kissing her he unties etc etc.
This is a 650 page book in which nothing happens, the ending is one of the cheesiest I've ever read and I'm really hoping that the authors statement that this is the last one is true because well it's terrible. This book has the feeling of a Police Academy 7, a canon of books/films which starts off well but has run out of ideas well before the final terrible episode. This book almost made me cry, I remember the enjoyment I felt from reading the first two or three in the series and had hoped that the final book might bring back some of that magic and finish the story of Ayla in style but it is perhaps the worst novel I've ever managed to finish.
If you loved the first three novels in the series then end with The Mammoth hunters and don't go any further. Finally the final and terrible nail in the coffin is the Mother's song, this is sung about every other cave by Ayla and the cave she's in and tells the connection of the people with the landscape and after the third or fourth rendition you pity the tree which donated its wood for the book and start to think maybe crap books should only be released in Kindle format and save the world's forests from being wasted.