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The Land of Painted Caves: A Novel (Earth's Children) Hardcover – March 29, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Thirty thousand years in the making and 31 years in the writing, Auel's overlong and underplotted sixth and final volume in the Earth's Children series (The Clan of the Cave Bear; etc.) finds Cro-Magnon Ayla; her mate, Jondalar; and their infant daughter, Jonayla, settling in with the clan of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonaii. Animal whisperer and medicine woman Ayla is an acolyte in training to become a full-fledged Zelandoni (shaman) of the clan, but all is not rosy in this Ice Age setting; there are wild animals to face and earthquakes to survive, as well as a hunter named Balderan, who has targeted Ayla for death, and a potential cave-wrecker named Marona. While gazing on an elaborate cave painting (presumably, the Lascaux caverns in France), Ayla has an epiphany and invents the concept of art appreciation, and after she overdoses on a hallucinogenic root, Ayla and Jondalar come to understand how much they mean to one another, thus giving birth to another concept—monogamy. Otherwise, not much of dramatic interest happens, and Ayla, for all her superwomanish ways, remains unfortunately flat. Nevertheless, readers who enjoyed the previous volumes will relish the opportunity to re-enter pre-history one last time. (Mar.)
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What began 30 years ago with Auel�s best-seller The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980), namely the phenomenally popular Ice Age�era Earth�s Children series, comes to an end in the sixth installment. Now a wife and mother, Ayla lives among the Zelandoni, the people of her mate, Jondalar, but she hasn�t forgotten the ways of the people who raised her. Ayla is training to become a spiritual leader, and her devotion to this calling takes its toll on her union with Jondalar. On their journeys, Ayla and her friends contend with earthquakes, a band of marauding rapists, and even an outbreak of prehistoric chicken pox. When Ayla and Jondalar get wistful for the days when they were alone with their animals, readers might find themselves feeling similarly. As was the case with The Shelters of Stone (2002), there�s not a lot of urgency in this final volume, but the millions of readers who have been with Ayla from the start will want to once again lose themselves in the rich prehistoric world Auel conjures and see how this internationally beloved series concludes. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Auel�s novels have been record-breaking mega-best-sellers, with 45 million copies worldwide, ensuring that readers will clamor for the series finale. --Kristine Huntley
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Sadly, I was right to be worried. This is so disappointing. I barely care about Ayla or Jondalar anymore. I feel like Jean Auel painted herself into a corner by making both of them so perfect and so good at everything and so in love.... there's no conflict unless it's forced and contrived. 'Cave Bear' had all the conflict of the Cro-Magnon girl living with the Neanderthal clan... very organic conflict. 'Horses' had the fabulous juxtaposition of the two difficult scary journeys and then Ayla and Jondalar meeting and discovering each other. Again, very organic. 'Mammoth' had some natural conflict - Ayla meeting her first group of people and admitting her background, but some forced conflict (love triangle) thrown in. It wasn't quite as good of a book. 'Passages' was the same way... there was some natural conflict (the tribe of women, meeting the flatheads, the glacier), but not really enough... so too much time was devoted to boring details ad repetitive pleasures. As the protagonists' lives become more perfect, the books become more boring. And 'Painted Caves' is boring. It took me weeks to get through it (I remember reading 'Horses' in 2 days!). Argh... this series has just been so drawn out....there's no story any more. Nothing to care about. No-one to fear for or root for. It's plotless and character-less and just empty and dry. It makes me sad.
It seems like Jean Auel has no idea about 'what happens next' or how to keep the story urgent, or exciting, or even just interesting. (Why she takes 8000 pages to NOT tell any sort of a story is beyond me.) It's all blahblah Ayla is foreign and blahblah Ayla is exotic and blahblah she invented everything and tames animals and heals all and her daughter is perfect too and Jondalar who? And then it's all blahblah cave paintings and blahblah more cave paintings and blahblah description exposition blah. Then there's another piece of utterly contrived marital blahblah we don't communicate conflict. Culminating in blahblah Ayla has a Revelation and Teaches Her Wisdom To All.
Also? Her daughter's stupid combo-name gives me nauseating flashbacks to Renesmee (if you don't know who I'm talking about, count yourself lucky) which makes me want to gouge my eyes out.
BOTTOM LINE: Tedious, over-written, repetitive, and forced. A massive disappointment... but you may want to plow through it if you read the first 5 books and want closure.
Oh Creb, Iza, Durc, Brun, Baby... I miss you guys!
I get it. You didn't really want to write about Ayla and Jondalar anymore. 31 years is a long time, and all you
really wanted to do was enjoy your golden years, touring Europe and looking at ancient caves. That's fair. But I've got to ask. If you wanted to write about old painted caves, why not just write a book about them? Your book can have a cover with a picture of a cave painting and a tagline "by the author of Clan of the Cave Bear"; I've a feeling that would help it sell. But don't take the material for that book, insert some occasional dialogue, and call it the finale to your celebrated Earth's Children series.
My expectations of The Land of Painted Caves were not especially high, thanks to the sharp downturn in the quality of the series after The Mammoth Hunters, yet somehow it still managed to disappoint me. Should you decide to call Painted Caves a frame job and write a new final book, here's my advice:
- Your book is some 700 pages long. I mean, OK, it makes it easier to fantasise about using it to bludgeon the characters to death for criminal idiocy once we reach Part 3, but your book only has maybe 100 pages worth of actual plot, so I'm kind of left wondering if you actually had an editor for this thing, and if so, whether they're now spending their unemployment check on hard liquor to help drown the shame.
- I imagine there are very few people reading this who haven't read your earlier books. You really, really don't need to recap EVERYTHING that happened in them. Did the notes you had out to remind yourself of stuff somehow get mixed into the manuscript? Even more disturbing, I recognised passages that appear to have been copied verbatim from previous novels, and even some that repeated the exact same information as passages EARLIER IN THE NOVEL ITSELF. Copypasta and novels are not a good combination, mmmk?
- Too many caves, too many greetings, WAY too many renditions of the Mother's Song. No, seriously. Cut them, and you'll singlehandedly save a forest. Wouldn't Ayla be proud?
- Part 3. O lawd. This was where you actually started to offer us a reasonable amount of plot. It's a shame it's also where the book stopped being simply boring and repetitive and started being irredeemably hateful. It's like you suddenly realised that you needed some conflict, and that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to make Ayla and Jondalar win at everything ever. So you manufactured some absolutely awful drama that made me want to vomit, then resolved it with some Sleeping Beauty dreck that only served to highlight the misogynistic overtones that had already threaded their way through this book. Women who pursue careers always neglect their families and pay the price, y'all. Even if a family is all they've ever wanted.
I want my money back.