The Land of Painted Caves is the long-awaited and final installment in the Earth's Children series, following the life of a young woman named Ayla during the last Ice-Age. After spending the better half of last year reading this series, I became quite attached to the story and characters, but have to admit that it started to become extremely repetitive and more than a bit laborious. Reviews for the final novel were also incredibly harsh, claiming the book left Auel fans bitterly disappointed - and so I began reading quite cautiously and to be frank, expecting the worst.
I wouldn't call this book a travesty, but especially compared to The Clan of the Cave Bear, which was utterly brilliant, The Land of Painted Caves has not only lost all sense of spark, but is riddled with the kind of storytelling that one never expects to even see the light of day.
To begin with, I am convinced that this book should never have happened. At the end of book five, The Shelters of Stone, Ayla is finally accepted by Jonadalar's family and people, the Zelandonii, which has been foreshadowed since book two, or even book one and has in fact been the driving theme throughout. This, along with numerous other resolutions, make The Shelters of Stone a perfect ending to the series in my opinion - I really didn't feel the need to read any more. While this book was always planned by the author, I feel it had nothing more to add other than repeating material from previous books (and at 774 pages, it's a lot of repetition).
The biggest flaw of this book in fact, was the repetition. The Land of Painted Caves deals mainly with Ayla's journey to become a Zelandoni, one of the spiritual leaders of the people. All this involves however is her journeying to and visiting far too many sacred sites/caves. And each cave is literally identical to the one before it, with the same drawings and Ayla asking, word for word, the same questions. When I finally got to the last and more important cave, I actually skipped forward about 10 pages until it was over. This got even more ridiculous, when Auel would, through either direct speech or blatant exposition, re-describe something to the fullest extent, which we had read about earlier on in this very book. I couldn't believe it ... is she on drugs? I swear, if one more person had the same lengthy, unnecessary observation about Ayla's accent, I was going to stop reading. Here is one example:
"Laramar was there, the man who was known for making the potent alcoholic brew from almost anything that would ferment ... His only other claim to fame had been a handful of unkempt children, and a slovenly mate who indulged heavily in his product."
This occurs on page 646. I'm pretty sure Laramar and his family have been a key part of not only this book, but the previous one. I honestly think that Auel believes her readers to be so stupid, they cannot remember a character from one page to the next. Then there is this little gem:
"They were the ones who did it" a woman cried when she was the men. "They're the ones who forced me and killed my mate when he tried to stop them. They took our food and sleeping rolls, and left me there. I walked home, but I was pregnant and lost the baby."
Wow. If this had happened to you, and someone turned up in the village dragging in the culprit, would you really stand there and yell it out like it was a shopping list? This book is filled with such incredibly distasteful moments that are about as subtle as Santa and his sleigh crashing through Japanese water-garden. On Easter.
Character development was also at an all-time low for the series. Jonayla was a constant throughout, but there was barely any kind of interaction or description of her or her personality, as with numerous others. Ayla in fact pretty much became a Mary Sue, with Auel inventing things about her left, right and centre that were definitely not in previous books.
I have never, ever, skimmed a book before, but I felt no guilt with The Land of Painted Caves. But the end, if no one was speaking, it was safe to assume that Auel was once again either describing foliage or retelling another useless fact from Ayla's past and I just skimmed until I saw another quotation mark.
The only time it actually then became interesting was the ending, which was a little more climactic. This was totally marred by the fact that it was the exact same situation and resolution as a climactic point in The Mammoth Hunters. And when I say exactly the same, I mean, it could have been copy and pasted.
It's incredibly sad to see such an amazing, inspiring and incredibly well researched life work degenerate from such grand beginnings to this. The ending of the book resolved very well, but I don't know if this was from and kind of good writing, or because I was so thankful that it was over!
I did read this one review which had me in stitches, so if you don't mind spoilers, check it out!
Not sure now if I should begin with The Kingdom of Gods, which is actually almost twice the size of its predecessor, or if I should try and knock off some smaller, less urgent books first.