Saturday, January 8, 2011

REVIEW: Valley of the Horses by Jean M Auel

Valley of Horses (2nd book in the Earth's Children series) reunites us with Ayla, the woman of the Others who was found and brought up by Neanderthals. Now she has been cast out of the Clan and sets out on a journey to find the Others (Cro-Magnons like herself). Ayla travels long distances in her quest but the weather is getting worse and she must find somewhere to spend the winter or risk freezing in the cold. She finds a valley where steppe horses roam and a cave that is perfect for spending the winter in. She sets up house in the cave and along the way makes the acquaintance of a steppe horse and a cave lion who become her only companions.

Meanwhile on a journey of their own are Jondalar and Thonolan, brothers from the Zelandonii cave. They seek to find the source of the Great Mother river and meet many other different clans along the way. We follow Ayla's progress (and also the brothers) and eventually their destinies collide.

I really liked the character of Ayla in Clan of the Cave Bear and she is just as strong here as she was in the original. It takes a great deal of strength to be able to survive the trials she faced after being cast out of the Clan. I really felt for her as her one skill was hunting and she had to learn everything else by trial and error. I thought her way with animals, especially the befriending of Whinny the Steppe Horse and Baby the Cave Lion to be remarkable.

I found that the need to suspend belief was necessary so much for this novel that I couldn't enjoy it nearly as much as Clan of the Cave Bear. For example-with all the discoveries Ayla makes (fire, horse riding, making a carrier of sorts for the horse to pull, combs, hair braiding etc...) even with a very intelligent individual which she is, it is hard to believe that one person invented all those things on their own. It wasn't only that. Before she met Jondalar, Ayala communicated the way the Clan did-in sign. However, once she meets Jondalar and he begins to teach her speech she goes from the halting speech you would expect of someone who has never really spoken to a dream sequence one night which makes her "remember" the proper way to communicate. Um, huh? So one day she's communicating like a toddler and the next like a college educated professor? Don't buy it.

The character of Jondalar actually annoyed me. He seemed kindhearted enough but rather full of himself as he was portrayed as some sort of pre-historic Casanova and an anatomically gifted one too. When the book shifted focus from their two separate stories to just the one of them interacting I like the parts where they were getting to know each other and had misunderstandings due to their differences. However once these differences are overcome, it becomes all about the cave nooky. I understand the intense loneliness she must have felt from spending years alone in that valley but that doesn't mean once a man comes along we should lose the smart and independent Ayla we've been travelling with the whole book. To me the amount of sex was ridiculous-make dinner, have sex, go for a walk, more sex, gather wheat, have sex, feed the horse, have sex. That is really what it seemed like towards the end.

I will say the best part of these books are they are meticulously researched and you get all the details about every step in every process the characters go through. I actually learned more about pre-historic hunting and boat making than I would ever want to (even got a bit bored here and there). I thought this installment was just ok. I think it will be awhile before I read the next Earth's Children book.

This book is from my own personal library


  1. I read the first four books in this series in my late teens and absolutely loved them. I wasn't so keen on the last book which I read a couple of years ago, and now I am not sure that the early books would stand up to a reread very well for all of the reasons you mentioned.

    I will still be reading the last book when it comes out this year so I can say that the series is finished.