The Shelters of Stone
I can be very patient when it comes to holding out for sequels to books and movies I love, and The Shelters of Stone was well worth the 12-year wait. If you demand that it must be 12 times as good as a sequel you’ve anticipated for a single year, you will be disappointed. Ignore those 12 years of waiting and just pick up the story where it left off.
After a year of traveling, Ayla and Jondalar have reached his people, the Zelandonii, who live in modern southwest France. Ayla, with her unusual background and startling talents, must learn to fit in and to deal with the Zelandonii’s strong prejudice against the Clan, the Neanderthal people who raised her. She is welcomed by most, but her animal friends and easy acceptance of persons of mixed heritage creates tension and hostility.
Despite this, she is adopted into the Ninth Cave and is finally able to marry Jondalar and settle down to raise a family. But Jondolar’s previous lover Zolena, now known as Zelandoni (an important religious figure who had only been an acolyte when Jondolar left), fears Ayla’s abilities will prove disruptive and pressures her to accept her spiritual gifts and become her assistant.
The world in which Ayla and Jondalar live is thoroughly researched. The writing is rich, flowing with details on everyday life and the prehistoric world in general. Unless you keep up with bioscience, you probably won’t notice the errors, which weren’t actual mistakes when the series was first written.
Some readers will find fault with Auel’s writing style, finding the scope and length dull and longwinded. My mother confesses to skimming any and all pages of scenery descriptions. Personally, I have a soft spot for thorough descriptions, so the epic style does not bother me at all. What can be slightly distracting are the frequent author intrusions of the little-did-she-know kind. When I wolfed down the previous titles in my teens I hardly noticed, but time passes and tastes change. Re-reading the other titles as well as The Shelters of Stone, I realized that these omniscient-voice intrusions are an integral part of Auel’s writing style, and if this is a pet peeve of yours, be prepared.
A more serious concern is the padding. Of the 758 pages in my hardback copy, I estimate that at least 100 pages could be cut by scaling back the constant retelling of things that happened in the previous books. After the umpteenth retelling of how Ayla came to have Whinney and Racer I had gotten the point, and you will, too. This is a book where not much happens, but it happens over a number of pages. Scores of interesting secondary characters and lots of traditions are introduced, including things that I was surprised Jondalar had never mentioned before. While reading this was interesting, I hope that the resulting action will take place in the sequel that obviously must follow.
So while I loved The Shelters of Stone, even after waiting all those years, my love is not blind. The book will probably be to the taste of those who already love Auel’s work. For those unacquainted with her, go read The Clan of the Cave Bear. If you love that one, you’ll be back for more.