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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Shelters of Stone

*** The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel. Historical fiction.

This is the 5th book in the Earth's Children series. If you don't know the series, don't start here--start with The Clan of the Cave Bear. Not only does it introduce the characters and the concept, but it's a much better book.

The history in brief--Ayla is a Cro-Magnon who'd been raised by Neanderthals. She had a half-breed son, then was exiled from the clan, forced to leave her son behind, and spent a year alone, during which time she domesticated a lion and a horse. Then she met Jondalar, another Cro-Magnon, and they've been traveling together ever since. In between adventures, she invents things.

Now they've finally reached Jondalar's people, the Zelandonii. The Shelters of Stone is mostly about Ayla's quest to find a home with the Zelandonii. It's not that easy. First, she has horses and a wolf with her, and it's a struggle to get people to accept that. Then, there's Jondalar's ex-girlfriend, who's out for revenge. The biggest problem, though, is the Flatheads (Neanderthals), and convincing people that the Flatheads are people, that being a mixed-breed isn't an abomination, and that she's not a curse because she had a mixed-breed son. Meanwhile, the Zelandonii's holy woman, known as Zelandoni, is trying to convince Ayla that she should become a holy woman, too. Ayla, however, just wants to live an ordinary life with Jondalar and their baby.

I read Clan of the Cave Bear back in 1980, when it was first released, and each time a new book came out, I re-read the previous ones--until this one. The first 4 books are back in the house in TX, but I wouldn't have re-read anyway: too many books, too little time. But the point is, these characters have been a part of my life for 28 years, give or take a couple of months. It may have taken me a few years to get to this one, but I bought it when it first came out. And it might have been somewhat disappointing, but if there's another one, I won't hesitate to buy it, either.

I know a lot of people complain that Ayla's just too perfect; complain about her many, many inventions, but I don't have much of a problem with it. I see Ayla as both the character herself, and as a symbol of all the prehistoric inventors and scientists. Plus, much of the hyper-intelligence makes sense. She had to come up with labor-saving objects or techniques to survive on her own. She developed an incredible memory and people-reading skills from living with the Clan, who had genetic memories and whose language was primarily signs and body language. Even with the reasons, she is too impressive to be true, but that's when I start thinking of the invention or whatever not as Ayla doing it, but as "this is how it might have happened," with Ayla as the symbol demonstrating it.

What did bother me was the structure of the story. There were long, long descriptive passages during which nothing happened. Then there would be some conflict, but it would be resolved very quickly, simply, and thoroughly. Instead of one solid plot thread holding the book together, there was the concept of Ayla finding a home, and myriad small plots. And in between, there was repetition. A lot of repetition.

Between the repetition and the long descriptive passages, The Shelters of Stone was fairly tedious reading at times. But like I said, that won't dissuade me from buy the next, if there is one.

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