This is the second novel in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series, that follows the story of Ayla who is raised by mute Neanderthals after she is orphaned and lost from her people (Cro-Magnons). The clan who took her in were known as the Clan of the Cave Bear.
In the first novel, Ayla struggled to be a good clan woman despite her physical, psychological and physiological differences. But she just never quite fit in. At the end, she was expelled from the clan by the cruel new leader who had victimized her for years. She is forced to go out into the world alone, leaving her baby boy behind.
Although alone, readers return to Ayla’s story in this book finding her anything but defenceless. Although she longs to find her own people, she is unsure that they will accept her. So she makes her home in a pleasant valley and shows the reader her industriousness and resilence. She not only survives alone, but shows ingenuity in finding ways to thrive. She befriends and raises a young horse that she calls Whinney, and also eventually a Cave Lion cub known only as Baby. Both animals are her close and beloved companions, filling the void of human contact. Whinney returns to the wild for a short time, and returns to Ayla heavily pregnant after the death of her mate. Baby eventually explores the wild and finds a mate, returning occasionally to Ayla.
Interspersed with this narrative is the story of Jondalar – whois travelling up the great river with his brother Thonolan. They meet and get to know a number of tribes and their exploraations also serve to show the attitudes of these clans towards the neandertahls who raised Ayal in the previous book. The brothers have a number of sexual exploits (there is quite a bit of time devoted to sexual exploits in this novel) until Thonolan marries. Jondalar meets a beautiful woman with a son, but cannot fully commit himself to her. He wonders if he is capable of fully loving another human being. When Thonolan’s wife dies, they continue travelling although Thonolan expresses a longing to pass over into the next world with her. This wish is shortly granted when he provokes the mate of Baby. Ayla is able to intervene and rescue Jondalar who she nurses back to health.
They are immediately attracted to each other – Ayla has never seen another man before – but much of the rest of the novel is taken up with the barrier in their communication, not just verbal as Jondalar eventually teaches Ayla the language of his people, but in all the non-verbal communication that is so difficult. Jondalar also expresses some prejudices about the Clan that he needs to overcome before they can be together. This represents the prejudice Ayal feels sure she will meet if she leaves the valley.
They nearly separate a number of times until eventually they come to better understand each other and consummate their love. Over and over again. Much like a Mills and Boon novel really. Don’t get me wrong – you want to see them together and hope they can overcome the obstacles facing them, but there are plenty of moments whereby you just might blush.
Jondalar eventually decides he cannot leave Ayla, although he longs to return home to his people. He convinces her to take a tour of the surrounding areas, where they run into a group of Mamutoi hunters – the first group of Cro-Magnons Ayla has been exposed to. You feel sure that they will continue to journey to show Ayla the world she has been kept away from. Still engaging – athough I need a bit more than a love story to keep me interested.