As a follower of the Robert Jordan books, I feel equipped to say that I probably have more patience for authors I like than the average reader. Once I get hooked on something, I try to take it to the end through thick and thin. As you can imagine from this, I have managed to slog through some really frustrating books, and it’s really true. I have read some very frustrating books in my time. This book took frustration to a level I had never explored though. I felt that through this experiance I have come to grips with other frustrating things in my life simply because this book surpassed them on that level of consciousness. Let me explain.
This book takes off directly at the end of Jean Auel’s last book, The Valley of the Horses which explores the way humans lived during the Ice Age and is the sequel to The Clan of the Cave Bear. In that book, the two protagonists, through a language barrier and a whole bunch of cultural difference, fall in love and proceed to have lots of graphic sex. So turning to this book, they have come out of their love nest where they lived the life of hermits and find new people. This is odd for our heroine Ayla, because she lived with Neanderthals and thus had never met a real human before her lover Jondalar. So a whole tribe comes by and naturally she’s freaked out. Jondalar is excited because he’s back among his own species and scared because humans are racist (speciest?) against Neanderthals and he doesn’t like that Ayla lived with them and had a half-breed kid (which calls into mind the question that if it’s possible to have a half-breed kid, aren’t they in the same species? I should have taken more science classes…) with their leader. Anyway, the new tribe accepts them and brings them into the fold. Especially this strapping carver (couldn’t he have had a sexier profession? I think I would have liked him more if it hasn’t been a lame carver thing…) who catches Ayla’s eye and vice versa.
Anyway, Jondalar doesn’t like this turn of events, but instead of getting out of there as quick as he can with his insanely-hot-likes-to-please-men girlfriend, he sticks around and gets more and more jealous until he breaks up with her, stops eating and grows a beard. Ayla, who is just confused, has more graphic sex with the lame carver guy because that’s what you’re supposed to do when a guy asks you to (of course!) and wonders throughout the book why Jondalar is so angry with her. The other characters know what’s going on at all times, but no one ever says anything for no real reason. Then the end comes and just before Ayla gets married to the lame carver guy, Jondalar leaves and Ayla chases after him, reverse-The Graduate style where they have sex and then return to tell everyone that they’re leaving and there will be no wedding. Everyone wonders what took them so long, but Ayla and Jondalar figure out it was a test for him so that he could learn to accept Ayla as she is.
To be honest, I really thought this book was a test on the reader to see how long we could go through this book without throwing it against the wall in anger and going to a shorter and more satisfying read. It wasn’t so much the plot either as how long the book was. Anything that lengthened the book made it harder to read. Realistically a little frustration is a bit exhilarating because it keeps the readers on their toes. I love frustration when it goes on for a short time, like say, 100 pages. 200 pages would be the maximum for the sort of shenanigans of the “they love each other but misunderstandings break them apart” type. 300 pages is stretching any sort of frustration far, but this book was a whopping 400 pages. One might almost say it was movie-scripted since they only tied up loose ends in the last five pages, like many movies. So as one can imagine, I was understandably banging my head and shouting at the book and the sheer idiocy of it all. It took two reasonably sympathetic characters and turned them into idiots just for some drama, because all they were suffering from was some culture shock and a difference in how they saw each other. It wasn’t a big deal, so it became stupid.
The other annoying thing was the history lessons. Every few pages or so, there was a Discovery Channel-type experiance, which would be cool if I were watching the Discovery Channel. I got really tired of all the descriptions of flint-knapping (making stone knives, etc), making tents from mammoth hides and other stuff. I felt my eyes glaze over whenever I started to read… “She looked at the rug and wondered how it was made. To make the rug they…”
It’s not that the book didn’t have it’s up points. Obviously, I wouldn’t have continued to read it unless it did. I just can’t remember why I finished it, only why I started it. I hope, for all her fans’ sakes, that like Robert Jordan, if she has a dud, then the next one will be a star. We deserve it.