THE VALLEY OF HORSES
Jean M. Auel
Remember Ayla, the Cro-Magnon orphan who was raised by a tribe of less-evolved Neanderthals in Clan of the Cave Bear (1980)? Well, now, having been cursed and exiled by new tribe leader Broud (who raped her), Ayla must abandon baby Durc and go searching for her own species ("The Others"). So off she goes to the Eurasian North--on foot and alone. . . until she reaches the Valley of the Horses, finding "a nice cave" where she can settle in for the winter. And about half of this novel (#2 in Auel's Earth's Children series) details Ayla's self-help progress in the wild: she refines her already-impressive hunting and nursing abilities; she nurtures a foal ("Whinney"), discovers a neat trick called horseback-riding, invents the travois; she accidentally learns how to make Cure via stone-sparking; she mothers a baby lion ("Baby"), she becomes the world's first female to braid her hair; and she frets about the whole matter of mating--which, despite her past experiences, she doesn't quite understand. Meanwhile, however, in alternating chapters, Ayla's obviously-destined Super-Mate is on his way. This is big blond Jondalar of the Zelandonii, who reluctantly sets out on a Journey with young, impetuous brother Thonolan: they follow the "Great Mother River" (they're from an advanced, Mother-worshipping clan that scorns the Neanderthal "flatheads" as "animals"); along the way, Jondalar helps a friendly clan with his special expertise at deflowering virgins (" 'Jondalar man, Noria woman,' he said huskily. . ."); when Thonolan is wounded by a rhino, they're taken in by the Sharamudoi, a hunting/fishing/boating tribe that Thonolan eventually marries into; but, after Thonolan's wife and child die, the brothers travel on again. Eventually, then, they reach the Valley of the Horses--where Thonolan is promptly killed by Baby (who's no baby anymore). . . while Jondalar, seriously wounded, is nursed back to health by Ayla. Will these two find mating magic? Of course. But first Jondalar must teach culturally deprived Ayla how to speak--and must overcome his revulsion when he learns that Ayla is the mother of a half-flathead. (His anti-flathead outburst brings out the Barbara Stanwyck in a now-articulate Ayla: "If I could make a choice between human and animal, I'd take the stinking hyenas!") So finally, quarrels resolved, Ayla is introduced to Jondalar-style mating, oral sex is invented ("Oh, woman! . . . How did you learn to do that!"), and Ayla gets ready to join semi-civilization. As before, Auel's dialogue is often hiloriously anachronistic, suggesting a Saturday Night Live cave-man sketch. And Ayla's sugary chats with Whinney and Baby are on the icky-juvenile level. But, though this has less tribal texture than Cave Bear, the anthropological details and the hard-core sex again make an earthy combination--so Ayla followers can probably be expected to return for more Stone Age action.