Reader Review by cloggie-downunder
The Land of Painted Caves is the sixth novel in the Earth’s Children series by American author Jean M. Auel. The events of this novel span about six years, and cover Ayla’s vocation as Acolyte of the First Among Those Who Serve The Great Earth Mother, including her Donier tour of the Painted Caves and her subsequent calling as a Zelandoni. Whilst some novels in this series contain slabs of text from previous novels (which can be more or less helpful, depending on how recent one’s reading of the previous novel has been), this novel’s repetition takes a different form. Each visit on the Donier tour follows (with minor variations) the formula of: Ayla, Jondalar and Jonayla arrive on Whinney, Racer and Grey, dragging the travois with the First riding; Ayla amazes the locals with her control of the horses and Wolf; Ayla surprises the locals with her healing prowess, her sign language, her fire-making abilities; Jondalar demonstrates his spear thrower; they are shown cave paintings; rinse and repeat. Whilst a visit to a painted cave is, no doubt, fascinating in person, it takes a better author than Auel to write descriptions that don’t become tedious or repetitive. The 27-page description of the Great Earth Mother’s Most Sacred Site will test even the most devoted Auel fan’s endurance. The other repetition is at the end of the novel where the misunderstanding between Ayla and Jondalar is resolved in almost exactly the same manner as in The Mammoth Hunters. That said, Auel’s meticulous research is apparent in every paragraph. It is no wonder this runs to almost 800pages as she manages to incorporate an incredible amount of information about literally every aspect of life during the Upper Paleolithic Era, and does so skilfully, so that only occasionally does the dialogue feel like a lecture. I was interested to learn about the meaning of fringes, and to discover that white-water rafting was done a lot earlier that I’d ever dreamed. The novel ends with the population on the cusp of a major change in thinking about the role of men and women: while the way is open for another novel, at 10-12 years per novel, Auel would be 86 by the time it was published, so it is no surprise that this novel has been publicised as the last of the series. Interesting but too long.