The Land of Painted Caves – Jean Auel

  • Title: The Land of Painted Caves
  • Author: Jean Auel
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Why: Had to finish the series.
  • Rating: 1 Star

Description: In The land of Painted Caves, Jean M. Auel brings the ice-age epic Earth’s Children series to an extraordinary conclusion. Ayla, one of the most remarkable and beloved heroines in contemporary fiction, continues to explore the world and the people around her with curiosity, insight, and above all, courage.

As the story opens, Ayla, Jondalar, and their infant daughter, Jonayla are welcomed by the Zelandonii, but problems arise. They are faced with new challenges, not just the ordinary trials of sheer survival, but the complications posed by many groups of people who need to live and work together. The wisdom that Ayla gained from her struggles as an orphaned child, alone in a hostile environment, strengthens her as she moves closer to leadership of the Zelandonia.

Ayla and Jondalar’s first priority is the care for their golden-haired child, Jonayla, and the well-being of their amazing animals, Wolf, Whinney, Racer, and Gray. The two participate in hunts to provide food, in travels to Summer Meetings for decision making, and in social activities. Whatever the obstacles, Ayla’s inventive spirit produces new ways to lessen the difficulties of daily life: searching for wild edibles to make delicious meals, experimenting with techniques to ease the long journeys the Zelandoni must take, honing her skills as a healer and a leader. And then, there are the Sacred Caves, the caves that Ayla’s mentor–the Donier, the First of the Zelandonia–takes her to see. These caves are filled with remarkable art–paintings of mammoths, lions, aurochs, rhinoceros, reindeer, bison, bear. The powerful, mystical aura within these caves sometimes overwhelms Ayla.

Ayla’s final preparations for her initiation as a Zelandoni bring The Land of Painted Caves to a riveting climax. So much time apart from Jondalar has caused him to drift away from her. The rituals themselves bring her close to death. But through those rituals, Ayla gains A Gift of Knowledge so important that it will change the world.

Review: Most people looking to buy or read this book will have read the entire series prior to this. They maybe got bored reading part five (understandable – I did), so they are now wondering whether they should bother with part six.

For those people I have one piece of advice: Don’t. Seriously, just leave it be. Spend your money and time on something more worthwhile, like painting your walls and then watching them dry.

Technically you could stop reading here, because you have your answer, but if you’re curious as to why, do keep reading. For the completely uninitiated, this book is the sixth and last (hurray!) part in the Earth’s Children series. I’ll give a quick rundown of books one to five:

The Clan of the Cave Bear is a brilliant, gripping tale of a prehistoric girl, Ayla, who loses her family in an earthquake and ends up being raised by a tribe of Neanderthals. Five stars.

The Valley of Horses is a gripping tale of Ayla’s struggle for survival after being expelled from the tribe, interspersed with the adventures of Jondalar and his brother as they go on a big walking trip, until the two finally meet. Five stars.

The Mammoth Hunters is a pretty gripping tale of Ayla’s struggle to understand and fit in with other people of her own race, and the subsequent misunderstandings between her and Jondalar. Four stars, mainly because throughout the book I wanted to slap them both silly for being idiots.

The Plains of Passage is a tale of the year-long trip Ayla and Jondalar have to take to go back to Jondalar’s home. A decent read if you don’t mind half of your book being descriptions of the landscape they’re travelling through and mammoths having sex. Three stars.

The Shelters of Stone is about when they finally reach Jondalar’s home. To be honest, I don’t really remember much about it other than some incident with some really tight leather shorts. (Down, fetishists! It wasn’t as exciting as it sounds.) Two stars.

And then this one which is about… Well… What is it about? I’m not sure anyone really knows, because I’ve rarely read a book which lacked a plot as much as this one did.

Let me try anyway. People familiar with the series will know by now that Ayla is some sort of combination of Wonder Woman, Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci, having invented pretty much everything from the domestication of wild animals to stitching up wounds. If there’s ever a book seven she’ll probably invent the wheel as well. Oh, but she’s not perfect, because she can’t sing. (I can just imagine Jean Auel desperately trying to think of something to ensure that us normal mortals can relate to Ayla, before coming up with that.) In this book, she has to learn to be even more awesome and become the tribe’s main shaman-type person.

Jondalar is the perfect man and the perfect lover (well, not to me because he’s blond, so he can keep his oversized penis away from my vagina, but that’s by the by). Except he’s not smart enough to realise that shagging your ex-girlfriend repeatedly because your wife is too busy watching the sun go down is a Bad Thing to do.

So anyway, the books have always been pretty heavy on description. Auel has done a shedload of research into both the time period and how to survive in the wild, to the point that if the books were illustrated, you’d probably be just as well off out in the wilderness with Auel’s back catalog as if you had Bear Grylls with you. This was fine in the earlier books, because it supplemented the plot. In book six, there is little else but description. Jondalar’s tribe lives in what is now southern France, near the Lascaux caves which are full of prehistoric art. Most of the book consists of detailed descriptions of the pictures in these caves. Or maybe it wasn’t, but it sure felt like it, and I can remember little else about this book. Even the sex was boring.

So, to wrap this up, here’s some more advice: if you’re interested in the Lascaux cave art, get yourself one of those pretty, glossy coffee table photo books, not this piece of drivel. If you’ve only just started reading this series, stop at book three and know this: Ayla goes home with Jondalar, they have a kid and they live happily ever after. Because really? That’s all you need to know about the last three books.

Originally published on Silk Screen Views:


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