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June 13, 2002

Shelters of Stone

Too much of a so-so thing

I suppose I should have learned from Episode I. When you wait over a decade for a sequel to come out, you're bound to be disappointed. Jean Auel's latest entry in her Earth's Children series is no exception. It comes 12 years after the last book, Plains of Passage, was published and that one was no winner either.

I digress.

Shelters of Stone picks up the adventures of Ayla and Jondalar as they complete their year long journey arriving at Jondalar's home, the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Ayla is an orphan who was raised by a group of people known as The Clan. They were in modern terms Neanderthals and Ayla was one of The Others (aka modern humans). She left the Clan and lived alone for several years before finding Jondalar critcally wounded by a cave lion. She heals him, the get it on (a lot) and then travel back to his homeland with much stuff in between.

Ayla and Jondalar's arrival at the Ninth Cave is met with mixed emotions. Though they are happy to see Jondalar after a five year absence, they don't know quite what to make of Ayla. Between her odd way of speaking and her affinity to domesticate animals, they don't know if she is a freak or one of the chosen spiritual leaders called Zelandoni (not to be confused with the tribe name of Zelandonii, one i).

There is not much of a plot to Shelters. Ayla is pregnant, she tries to fit in, some people object, they hunt bison, they go to a Summer Meeting, Ayla and Jondalar mate (in this context it means they get married). There is no real conflict, no climax, no big story. They just go about their lives, and well, after four prior books about "the way they lived back then" it's no longer as interesting.

Part of Auel's problem is repetition. It's a big problem. Shelters weighs in at over 700 pages and frankly could be cut down by half if all the extraneous repetition was eliminated. For example, when people meet they introduce themselves formally with full names, ties and allegiances. So, it goes something like this:

"Ayla, this is Marthona, former leader if the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii; daughter of Jemara; born to the hearth of Rabanar;mated to Willamar, Trade Master of the Ninth Cave;Mother of Joharran, leader of the Ninth Cave; Mother of Folara, blessed of Donii" Then he turned to his mother. "Marthona, this is Ayla of the Mamutoi, Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth, Chosen by the Spirit of the Cave Lion, Protected by the Spirit of the Cave Bear" Marthona held out her two hands. "In the name of Doni, the Great Earth Mother, I welcome you Ayla of the Mamutoi" "In the name of Mut, Great Mother of All, I greet you Marthona of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, and Mother of Jondalar," Ayla said as they joined hands.

Fine, adds to the atmosphere, gives us an idea of the customs. However, this whole long process is repeated for just about every person Ayla meets - and since she's new to town, she meets a lot of people. One longed for a nice simple "She greeted him in the usual manner." to cut down on the words.

Auel also repeats events that transpired in previous novels very often. I understand this is necessary for people who haven't read the prior books or because the first book came out twenty years ago. In one instance, someone asks Ayla how she found out about firestones. She recounts how she was making tools and accidentally grabbed the wrong rock and noticed it made a spark. Good exposition for those who may not have remembered, but does she have to tell the whole story everytime someone asks her (and at least four people ask her throughtout the book).

The book doesn't even have as many of the infamous "paleo-porn" love scenes to help get through the many slow spots.

Aside from the repetition, the book fails to deliver any real bite. The book jacket talks about how not everyone accepts Ayla because of her background with the "flatheads" and it's played like it'll be this big drama. What it amounts to is someone, usually a person everyone in the tribe thinks is a schmuck anyway, objects to Ayla in some way and gets shot down by the leaders/Zelendoni with a "Too bad, we like her, go suck mammoth meat" speech.

I'm also getting tired of Ayla inventing everything from fire to sliced bread. Next thing you know she'll say "Hrm, wearing this big wad of bison fur between my legs every month is a pain in the butt, what if I rolled up some fabric in a nice tube and attached a piece of twine..."

Ok, that was catty.

In short, after reading Shelters of Stone I had to wonder why it took Jean Auel twelve years to write it. Yes, there was plenty of research involved, but I think she lost sight of the story. In my opinion, if Auel was a first time author, this book would have either never been published, or been published at about half its length.

If you're a series completist, skim the majority of this book then read the last 3-4 chapters to find out how it ends. Otherwise, give this one a pass and re-read the first three.

Posted by Anne at June 13, 2002 11:28 AM


I remember when I picked up _Clan of the Cave Bear_ because it was on the shelf of the folks I was living with, and their mom said, "You're going to love that."

I asked, "Why?"

She smiled. "It's prehistoric porn."

Oh. Um. Yeah, OK. Thanks, but it's not my thang.

Posted by: MT Fierce at June 17, 2002 1:25 AM

Actually, CotCB has very little sex, unless you count a couple rape scenes.

Valley of the Horses (book two) on the other hand is a veritable paleo-porn-o-rama.

I liked them for other reasons though. Auel used to be able to write a good story. Emphasis on used to.

Posted by: Anne at June 17, 2002 9:21 AM

10 Jan 2003
Just got around to reading the latest Ayla Jondalar (half way anyway).
The description of The 9th Cave reminded me so much of a visit to the local Ikea Store (or Scando Trash as we call it)
Why did it take Ikea 35,000 years to design it's layouts?

Posted by: Patricia Royse at January 10, 2003 10:12 AM