I am almost 50 years old, and I was in high school when the first Earth's Children book (Clan of the Cave Bear) came out. I LOVED it. I was so excited for the second book (Valley of the Horses)which came out while I was in college... and it was even better. One of my favorite books ever. The third book (Mammoth Hunters) came out a few years later and I did love it... though I thought the whole love triangle was really contrived. 5 long years went by til we got the 4th installment (Plains of Passage), I was going nuts waiting for it... and I was disappointed. It was very, very repetitive, and over-long, and detailed to the point of tedium. But there was still a plot, and some conflict inherent in a long journey, and some exciting moments. I didn't hate it. TWELVE years went by til book 5 (Shelters of Stone), and it was so boring that I never re-read it (I have re-read the first 3 probably a dozen times in the past 30 years)and honestly I barely remember what happened. So I was thrilled to see this 6th and final book, but I was also worried.
Sadly, I was right to be worried. This is so disappointing. I barely care about Ayla or Jondalar anymore. I feel like Jean Auel painted herself into a corner by making both of them so perfect and so good at everything and so in love.... there's no conflict unless it's forced and contrived. 'Cave Bear' had all the conflict of the Cro-Magnon girl living with the Neanderthal clan... very organic conflict. 'Horses' had the fabulous juxtaposition of the two difficult scary journeys and then Ayla and Jondalar meeting and discovering each other. Again, very organic. 'Mammoth' had some natural conflict - Ayla meeting her first group of people and admitting her background, but some forced conflict (love triangle) thrown in. It wasn't quite as good of a book. 'Passages' was the same way... there was some natural conflict (the tribe of women, meeting the flatheads, the glacier), but not really enough... so too much time was devoted to boring details ad repetitive pleasures. As the protagonists' lives become more perfect, the books become more boring. And 'Painted Caves' is boring. It took me weeks to get through it (I remember reading 'Horses' in 2 days!). Argh... this series has just been so drawn out....there's no story any more. Nothing to care about. No-one to fear for or root for. It's plotless and character-less and just empty and dry. It makes me sad.
It seems like Jean Auel has no idea about 'what happens next' or how to keep the story urgent, or exciting, or even just interesting. (Why she takes 8000 pages to NOT tell any sort of a story is beyond me.) It's all blahblah Ayla is foreign and blahblah Ayla is exotic and blahblah she invented everything and tames animals and heals all and her daughter is perfect too and Jondalar who? And then it's all blahblah cave paintings and blahblah more cave paintings and blahblah description exposition blah. Then there's another piece of utterly contrived marital blahblah we don't communicate conflict. Culminating in blahblah Ayla has a Revelation and Teaches Her Wisdom To All.
Also? Her daughter's stupid combo-name gives me nauseating flashbacks to Renesmee (if you don't know who I'm talking about, count yourself lucky) which makes me want to gouge my eyes out.
BOTTOM LINE: Tedious, over-written, repetitive, and forced. A massive disappointment... but you may want to plow through it if you read the first 5 books and want closure.
Oh Creb, Iza, Durc, Brun, Baby... I miss you guys!