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The Plains of Passage is the fourth novel in Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children saga, set back in the beginnings of human life, following a young Cro-Magnon woman, Ayla.
Having been forced to leave the Clan, the Neanderthals who raised her, and meeting Jondalar, a man of her kind, Ayla and Jondalar lived with the Mamutoi people during the third novel, The Mammoth Hunters. In The Plains of Passage they have set off on the long journey back to Jondalar's people, the Zelandoni, in the west. The journey will take them a year, and on their travels they meet many different people and have a lot of new experiences, particularly for Ayla, as she has only ever lived with the Clan and the Mamutoi.
The Plains of Passage is I think the longest of the series - it's a fairly hefty book, even in paperback. Auel's writing however is still excellent, and does not get too rambly despite the length of the novel. As ever her research and eye for detail is amazing, each scene is described so fully that the reader can accurately picture this scene set in a time so different to ours.
In terms of the story, I think I would say that this is my favourite of the series, after the opening novel The Clan of the Cave Bear. In The Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla is constantly learning about Clan life, as well as teaching herself new skills. In The Plains of Passage, there is the constant wonder of meeting new people and seeing new sights. Many of the people featured in The Plains of Passage were in The Valley of Horses (the second novel), on Jondalar's journey east, and so it is like seeing old friends but with the fun of having someone so unusual as Ayla to introduce to them. I did however find that the map at the start of the book spoiled this somewhat for me. It shows the course of the journey they make, and marks each encounter on it, so there were no surprises in who they met, and I also found I was keen to get to the next meeting with people once they had taken their leave of the last ones.
One section I didn't like was when Jondalar was kidnapped by the S'Armunai. I felt that it was all a little farcical, and very predictable, and far too 1950s cheesy Hollywood movie to be enjoyable. The whole idea of a man-hating tribe of women just didn't seem original, and I was glad when it was finished and they were on their way again.
The animals are of course present again, Ayla and Jondalar's horses Whinney and Racer, and the tame wolf called Wolf. There are moments of peril for them again, which really upset me as I find I get so attached to the animal characters. I was so worried when the horses had problems crossing a glacier, they'd come so far but it looked hopeless that they would make it.
What I love most about Auel's novels are that she creates such a complete world, and The Plains of Passage is no different. What is different however, is that she is creating a world while on the move - much of the previous three novels had the characters more or less staying still, and so she was only writing about a few locations. Even Jondalar's journey in The Valley of Horses was not as detailed as The Plains of Passage. It covers a journey from around present day Russia to southern France, all the while describing the landscape, animals and weather in incredible detail. This to me seems like quite and achievement - after all, things have changed a lot in the last 25,000 years or so.
I really like the Earth's Children series, and although I thought The Valley of Horses and The Mammoth Hunters were great, they didn't match up to The Clan of the Cave Bear. Neither has The Plains of Passage, but it has come closer than the previous two novels. I would strongly recommend the series, but start with The Clan of the Cave Bear.
This book is my favorite in the series, bar the original "clan of the cavebear".
This long book, 976 pages to be exact, is about the long travel of Ayla and Jondalar across the ice age europe to reach Jondalars home tribe. The map at the front of the book shows the route used by the couple, and shows where important points in the story occur. Although it can sometimes ruin some surprises as if you look at the map before you read, it tells you the main parts of the story!
The book has many different things in it, and the couple stay with a few different groups of people, but traveling on horse back, which was new for their time, often caused people to act in strange ways, thinking they are demons!
The book is very gripping as you never know what they are going to encounter next, as being set in ice age time, you never know what kind of beast they will find.
Like in my clan of the cavebear review, it is also noted that as they travel, the author goes into ridiculous detail about the fauna that surround them, so skim reading through these is how i got through!
Yes, I know it has taken me some time to produce, but here I am eventually with review number 4 (on book number 4) in the Earth's Children series - "The Plains of Passage". I know I was in danger of doing a JK Rowling on you; it's just that this is such a mammoth (or should that be woolly mammoth?) of a read that it has taken me some time to plough through it. Let alone sit down and review it, mind. I mean, where do you even start on a book this long and epic? At the beginning I suppose! Well, here I go then - are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. - So what is The Plains of Passage About then? The Plains of Passage is book 4 of 6 in the highly successful Earth's Children series - some of you may know the books better as The Clan of the Cave Bear series, after the famous first novel in the sequence. The books are set in Upper Palaeolithic Europe some 30,000 years ago, a time when the continent is in a glacial interstadial (a warmer bit during an Ice Age). Despite this being a warmer period though, huge sheets of ice several miles thick still cover Britain, Scandinavia and the edge of the continent, leaving an huge and impassable boundary marking the northern limit of the known world. South of the ice sheets, Europe exists in a periglacial climate (think present day northern Canada) cold enough for huge glaciers to sit on mountains, and creatures such as the woolly mammoth to roam the lands. The truly curious thing about this time is not that it is the middle of an ice age, though. It is the fact that it appears there were two distinct species of human - the ancient Neanderthal who had lived in this world for some 200,000 years already, and the Cro Magnon or early Homo Sapiens (us!) who had only appeared relatively recently. Of course, archaeological dating is not hugely precise when you are talking about time spans as long as this, but again and again analysis done on human remains from the Upper
Palaeolithic show that the two species did exist at the same time, and may even have inter-bred (although this is still pretty controversial for obvious reasons). This is a fascinating time in human history, and one in which Jean Auel has chosen to set the lives of her characters. Before I can tell you about The Plains of Passage itself though, first I need to cover some background stuff to put things into context... The heroine of this story (and indeed of the whole of the Earth's Children series) is a woman called Ayla - a Cro Magnon born to people living in the east of the continent - who is orphaned at age five by an earthquake. Suddenly alone, she is lucky to be found by a travelling group of Neanderthal who are searching for a new home after their old cave was lost to the very same earthquake. These Neanderthal (or Clan as they call themselves) take the strange girl in, saving her life, and have her adopted to the hearth of the community's medicine woman (Iza) and her brother, the magician/spiritual advisor Creb. Here, Ayla grows up and learns the ways of Clan, including their language, traditions and medical knowledge, and even has a son of "mixed spirits" named Durc. However, she unwittingly makes an enemy of the son of the leader, who takes it upon himself to have her evicted from the cave as one of his first acts in charge. At age 14 and without her son, Ayla leaves the only family she can remember and sets out northwards to try and find her own people as Iza has advised her to do. Ayla travels for several months before it occurs to her that winter is approaching and she is unlikely to find any of her own people (whom she still calls The Others in the Clan way) soon enough before the cold season sets in. Giving up on her quest for that year, she settles down in a cave of her own in a small valley and sets about surviving the harsh glacial winter alone. Eventually the spring arrives, but before Ayla can leave th
e valley an event happens that changes her life - she finds a motherless foal whilst out hunting horses, and overcome by pity for it, takes the small animal in and begins to raise it. Ayla names the young horse Whinney, and now with company in her cave, becomes reluctant to leave and resume her search for the Others. This feeling grows even more when Ayla learns to ride the tame horse, and more again when she adopts a second animal - a young cave lion she calls Baby. After three years in the valley, Ayla is settled into her solitary existence with her animal companions and it comes as something of a shock when one day a handsome man called Jondalar appears - a man on a long journey from the western lands of Europe. The two inevitably fall in love, and upon finally leaving the valley, spend the winter of Ayla's eighteenth birthday with a local group of Others, the Mamutoi. Living with a community of Cro Magnon people is a revelation for Ayla. She finally has opportunity to learn of her species - if not necessarily her own people - and even finds chance to adopt another animal to her brood when she finds an abandoned baby wolf. The Mamutoi are good to Ayla and even adopt her to be one of them, but she is aware than Jondalar has been away from his home to the west for too long and wishes to return there. Torn between the man she loves and the people she has come to regard as her kin, she eventually agrees to travel back with Jondalar. And this is where The Plains of Passage takes up - it is the story of Ayla and Jondalar's year long trip from the lands of the Mamutoi (in what is now the Ukraine) to his home with the Zelandonii (in central France). This is a journey that we might consider to be rather long by today's standards, but consider taking that trip during the Palaeolithic, when there are no maps, roads, signposts, travel guides or any of the other amenities the modern traveller would expect. Not only that, but there a
re no means of communication - if you fall and break your leg on the way you can't just pick up a phone and ring for help - and a harsher climate than we know today. I say this just to put into perspective what this couple were doing in undertaking this trip, and how brave and confident Ayla must have been to make the gamble to travel back with Jondalar. The return journey also offers the author a chance for Jondalar to revisit the people whom he stayed with on his outward trip - the Sharamudoi of central Europe and the Hadumoi hunters west of them - so the reader is given a chance to catch up with familiar characters from earlier books. In the course of their cross-continental odyssey, Ayla and Jondalar encounter both savage enemies and brave friends. Together they learn that the vast and unknown world can be difficult and treacherous, but breathtakingly beautiful and enlightening at times as well. All the pain and pleasure bring them closer to their ultimate destination, for the orphaned Ayla and the wandering Jondalar must reach that place on earth they can call home. - Who is the Auel woman I keep mentioning? This is the author of the Earth's children series, Jean M Auel (pronounced "owl"). The author is a wonderful lady from Oregon in the US. The incredible thing about Auel is that she is not just a writer. Having decided to write a series of books set the Palaeolithic, she set about researching the era to such a high standard that she has earned the respect of many scientists, anthropologists and archaeologists around the world. It is this attention to detail that helps to create such a highly believable, realistic and absorbing world. - So these books are archaeologically accurate, then? Yes! The basis of all of the Earth's Children books lies in what is known about this era from finds that have been made, and the fictional world is then built around the archaeological frame. The lan
ds of the Sharamudoi are based on a number of sites around Lepinski Vir in the Black Gates region of what is now Romania, for example, while the S?Armundai settlement was constructed from evidence from Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic. In fact, the burial Jondalar witnesses in the S'Armundai village is a direct copy of one excavated from Dolni Vestonice, and the mother figure given by Jondalar to the Hadumai hunters on his outward journey is the now famous Venus of Willendorf. - But what did I think of the Plains of Passage? You may have got the impression by now that I like this book, but I also admire it greatly, for it is beautifully written, meticulously researched and completely original. The Earth's Children series are highly popular worldwide, and have spawned numerous fan clubs, websites and even an online role-playing game! I also love this work as an archaeologist, as it brings such a distant part of the past to life, and has been written with such loving care and attention to all that we know (or like to think we know) about the Upper Palaeolithic. The work that has gone into producing these books is evident not only in the gaps between them (books 4 and 5 came out 11 years apart!) but in the way you can read them and feel "yes, this is what it really would have been like then". The Plains of Passage is long book, the lengthiest so far at a whopping 1,000 pages, but then it does have a lot of material to cover. A journey of these proportions has so much potential for Ayla and Jondalar - the chance to meet new people, learn new customs and languages, and even to encounter a Clan couple (in a chapter than in my opinion was the best in the book). The couple were not travelling out alone, as they have Whinney and her son Racer, and the tame wolf from the Mamutoi lands; this makes them appear like great magicians to strangers who have not yet begun to tame animals for themselves. This set up is original and
intriguing as any you would come to expect from Auel. However, I do have to say that the book is far from perfect and like instalments 2 and 3, does not come anywhere close to the masterpiece that was The Clan of the Cave Bear. The first 20% or so of The Plains of Passage was really mediocre by Auel's usual high standards; the plot was samey and the potential untapped and at times I have to admit that it was a real effort to read it. The only thing that kept me going was the motivation that I had spent good money on this book! However, once the lands of the Sharamudoi are reached by the travellers, things pick up and are soon back to their usual absorbing selves. From here on in, things continue to get better and better and Auel really finds her form - it is well worth sticking with past the rather dull beginnings, believe me. My other niggle is one that I have mentioned before. I'm sorry, but Ayla is just too bloody perfect! She swans across Europe picking up languages and customs with ease, healing all sick people in her path and generally improving the lives of everyone she meets. I am well aware that there are good character reasons for most of her perfections, but please Jean, can't we have a little something negative to make her more rounded and lifelike? Perhaps a jealous streak or the odd bad decision? Jondalar manages it, and he is all the better character for it at times. I recommend this book to anyone aged 15 and over with a love for an epic story and the concentration to follow all 1000 pages of this book (plus the three before it of course!). I loved it at age 16 when I first read it, and I love it just as much now - read it for a good story, to learn more about the Palaeolithic or to challenge your preconceptions about the past. But above all, just read it. ------------------------------------------------------ The full series of Earth's Children are: 1) The Clan of the Cave Bear (
1980) 2) The Vall ey of Horses (1982) 3) The Mammoth Hunters (1985) 4) The Plains of Passage (1990) 5) The Shelters of Stone (2001) Useful stuff: http://ecfans.com/ Excellent fansite, with all sorts of articles on the author, the books and recent archaeological work on the Palaeolithic http://www.mikedust.com/history/neanderthal.html See what the Neanderthal looked like (as far as we know!) http://www.mikedust.com/history/cromagnon.html Read more about the early homo sapiens of Ayla's species http://www.geocities.com/auelpage/series/bk1clan.htm See a Neanderthal morph into a Cro Magnon http://www.geocities.com/auelpage/series/bk4moravia.htm Read about the archaeological work that inspired the S'Armundai people Price: The first four books in the series are available in paperback for £7.99. The most recent is still in hardback, and costs £9.99 - but it is due to come out in paperback next summer. ----------------------------------------------------