For more than 20 years, Jean M. Auel has enthralled readers with her prehistoric novels in the Earth’s Children series, starting with The Clan of the Cave Bear, where Auel first introduced the enigmatic outsider Ayla. The series has followed Ayla through several Ice Age European cultures, and her strange accent, animal companions and foreign knowledge have always placed her in the spotlight. The much-anticipated sixth and final book, The Land of Painted Caves, takes Ayla into a new country with her blue-eyed mate Jondalar, and she begins her training to become a Zelandoni—one of the community’s spiritual leaders and healers—to the people of Zelandonia.

The Land of Painted Caves follows Ayla as her mentor leads her across the land of Zelandonia. Their tour through the caves, which are carved and decorated by unknown ancestors, is meant to bring Ayla closer to the Great Mother Earth. Her training intensifies to near-intolerable levels, and as Ayla draws closer to the Great Mother Earth, her roles of mother, lover and Zelandoni brew a small storm in her mind. She pushes the boundaries of the Spirit world, and her revelations will set in motion a completely different world for the men and women of the land of painted caves.

Like all of Auel’s books, the research is extensive, with brilliantly re-imagined scenes of daily life and early forms of religion. The realism feels just as important as the mysticism, and the painstaking detail grounds the story with a sense of familiarity. Readers will find the people charming for their early discoveries, such as learning to count and creating glue. Those who have never read the Earth’s Children series may be a little confused, especially concerning Ayla’s extensive backstory, but will be no less entertained and touched by Auel’s careful representation of early people.

 

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