Robinson has tackled everything from terraforming to alternate history, so his decision to write a prehistoric bildungsroman isn’t that surprising, although the narrowness of its scope might be.
Loon is your typical rebellious adolescent, except that he’s extremely resourceful when he’s dumped naked into the wilderness as part of a maturity ritual. Afterward, he officially becomes the shaman’s apprentice, a role he has mixed feelings about: He’s not very good at memorizing the pack’s ancient stories, but he has a real gift for cave painting. He gains the experiences he needs to grow into the role after he and his wife, Elga, escape from a rival pack and make a perilous journey home. Robinson’s (2312, 2012, etc.) expert worldbuilding and lyrical prose offer Jack London-esque pleasures as they depict the stark beauties of the icy landscape—its desolation, dangers and the desperate choices it forces people to make when pushed to the edge of existence. A map and a bibliography would help underscore the research Robinson assuredly did when writing this book, but it’s doubtful they would explain why characters oddly and jarringly say “mama mia” so often.
Richly detailed but with a disappointingly modest plot from an author renowned for ambitious works.