So there’s no chance of me spoiling this for anyone since really, nothing much happens. Folket i Klippehulerne aka The Shelters of Stone is of course the fifth book in the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. Since The Clan of the Cave Bear we’ve been following Ayla on her journey from part of a Neanderthal clan to finding people of her own kind, the Cro-Magnons. We’ve followed her living on her own, befriending various animals as well as meeting and healing Jondalar, the first Cro-Magnon man she’s ever seen. She and Jondalar then set off on their journey, first living and experiencing serious relationship trouble in the camp of the Mammoth Hunters. And then, they set off for Jondalar’s home.
After the boring journey across the plains in book 4, I was kind of apprehensive about the fifth book. I was hoping that the 12 years break was used by Jean M. Auel to get back to the quality of the first books in the series. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
This novel takes off when Ayla and Jondalar has arrived at the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, Jondalar’s home. Arriving on horseback, together with a wolf, they of course cause quite a stir. After Ayla is introduced to the family and the rest of the people in the cave, she starts trying to fit in. Most people are very impressed with this beautiful and amazingly talented woman, Jondalar brought back. However, not all are quite so happy. One of these is the girl, Jondalar was supposed to marry who is not exactly happy that he brought Ayla back and therefore, she decides to humiliate her. The plan doesn’t go quite as expected, instead it rather backfires and makes Ayla more popular with most of the people of the cave – although even more unpopular with a few.
Besides Ayla’s attempts to fit in, this novel focuses on Ayla’s pregnancy and her and Jondalar’s mage ceremony. Throw in a couple of hunts, some sex scenes, explanations about how things worked, everyone presented having extremely (ridiculously) long titles and Ayla being amazing at whatever she does – and you have yourself a book.
Unfortunately, not a very good one. It seems that Auel has more focus on the research she has done for the book than on the actual story the research should be the background to and this makes the book rather slow-moving and unbalanced. On top of this, Auel repeats herself over and over and over – I’m convinced that in at least one place, she simply copy-pasted from the first of the books – and even presents the same things as new information several times as well as recap all major events from the first 4 novels, and you can see some of the issues with the book.
But unfortunately that’s not all that bothered me about the book. So far, Auel has seemed rather progressive when it comes to sex and relationships between the sexes but in this novel, not so much. For this tribe, if a young woman has sex before her first ritual, it’s a great shame and people look down on her – but not on the man who did it with her, even if he’s an older man who persuaded her. Also, it’s the woman’s responsibility to keep the man happy by having sex with him – if not, he’ll probably leave her… This is some of the things Ayla are told before the mate ceremony – and it doesn’t seem that Jondalar is told anything similar to this. And I don’t like that.
Auel also has a tendency sometimes to step back and talk about how some invention or new thought, will evolve through the coming centuries and what it will come to mean and why Jondalar and Ayla thought of it. This way of stepping back breaks the rhythm of the story and ruins the pace.
I read a translation of this novel so I don’t know if the clunkiness of the writing and the sometimes very old-fashioned language is the author’s or the translator’s fault. I do know that the spelling and translation mistakes are the Danish editor’s and the translator’s fault!
The greatest issue with this book however, is how accomplished and amazing Ayla is. She is simply the best at everything. She’s the perfect woman, she’s beautiful and is able to create amazing clothes. She can tame animals. She is a fantastic healer – who on top of that, always is on hand when someone gets injured. No one gets injured in this book without Ayla being right there, ready to treat. She can solve social issues in minutes: issues, that have bothered everyone else for years. No wonder she annoys some of the people in the cave! I know she has had opportunities no one else has had and all that, but it just feels too much now. She is simply too accomplished for it to feel real in any way.
I went back and forth between giving this 2 or 3 stars. I actually think this doesn’t deserve more than 2 stars and if I had read the series closer together, I would probably have been so annoyed with the constant repetition of both the earlier books in the series and even of this very book, that it would have been difficult even to give it two stars. But since it has been 15 years or so since I read the first 4 in the series and so the repetition bothers me but not as much as it could have – maybe should have.
I really, really liked this series when I was younger. The first three books were really good – or at least, that’s how I remember them. But after the disappointment with both the fourth and fifth book in this series, I’m not sure if these books were any good or if it’s because I read them maybe 20 years ago when I was in my teens - and wasn’t as sophisticated a reader as now. It’s sad to start to question books you used to love, because the later in the series simply don’t live up to your expectations. So far, I’m convinced that book 4 and 5 should have been one book – and I’m not having very high hopes about book 6…
- Title: Folket i Klippehulerne (Jordens Børn #5) (The Shelters of Stone – Earth’s Children #5)
- Author: Jean M. Auel
- Publisher: Samleren
- Year: 2002
- Pages: 739 pages
- Source: Own Collection
- Stars: 3 stars out of 5