Auel, of Clan of the Cave Bear fame, adds a sixth volume to her Earth’s Children series, just over 30 years after the first appeared.
Having delivered thousands of pages before these, the author finds need to backtrack a little at the very beginning of this installment; if it were a film, it would be voiceover, and it would be annoying, but here it’s mostly a gentle reminder of who’s who and who bears what credentials. Ayla, the heroine of the piece, for instance, is from the outset established as a self-starter and autodidact, having spent years studying “animals, chiefly carnivores, when she was teaching herself to hunt.” Ayla has other powers, too, and over the span of this installment we watch as she establishes herself as a peer of the loosely knit network of shamans and vision-seekers who guide the people of the Old Stone Age—powered, at one crucial point, by a righteous quaff of hallucinogens that draws her “into a deep, black empty space, a place as black as the inside of a cave, mindless, terrifying.” The lesson? Well, it’s not just say no, not for a budding member of the Cro-Magnon cognoscenti. Trips worthy of Peter Fonda aren’t the only modern touch; Auel also pairs Ayla up with a mate whose wandering eye befits an ancestral John Edwards. Sniffs the mistress in Paleolithic petulance, “Look at her flaunting that outfit,” but Ayla’s paid her dues and won’t be held back by a deadbeat husband; instead, she’s off in a flash to travel leagues and leagues, battle bears and lions and even catch more than a few clues that the world she knows is about to come to a crashing end. (Think climate change, for one thing.) As with her other books, Auel spins her tale with credible dialogue, believable situations and considerable drama. More than that, she deftly creates a whole world, giving a sense of the origins of class, ethnic and cultural differences that alternately divide and fascinate us today.Among modern epic spinners, Auel has few peers. And readers need not worry: There are enough loose ends to feed a half-dozen more books. We’ll hope to see more, magic mushrooms or no.