Like most other fans I discovered this series many years ago, and it has been a constant companion and well-loved read ever since. When it was finally announced that she would be releasing the sixth book, I immediately began rereading them from the beginning to refresh the story in my mind and re-familiarise myself with the characters. Perhaps that was a bad idea.
Throughout the books she builds up a steady stream of foreshadowing and allusions to future, pivotal plot points, for instance: the vision of the falling stone above the Ninth Cave, the vision of Ayla's two sons fighting, and better relations with the Clan. But none - absolutely none - of the build up is completely satisfied. Allusions are made to some points, but others are ignored entirely. Despite her intimate relations with the Clan throughout Ayla's life, including her meeting with the the pair of Clan members being attacked by a band of men in Plains of Passage, nothing is extended down this avenue. All the talk of overcoming the prejudice of Jondalar's people, assuaging the mounting difficulties with them over the caves in the region and perhaps even establishing trade with the Clan amounts to nothing - there isn't even contact made. To top that off with Ayla abandoning her heritage, along with her amulet, was just distressing.
Another disappointment was her daughter. Jonayla receives little to no mention or development in the book further than a few brief descriptions of her beauty. Given Ayla's large focus and almost desperation throughout most of the fore-running books, when she finally has the child it's mentioned even less than the Wolf. For an unaccountably long time Jonayla isn't even given a description, and could quite as easily have been substituted for a small bag that Ayla carried around. I can't really understand this, and it seems deeply out of character. Given that the author herself has five(?) children, I'd have thought she'd have easily included some bonding scenes between the family and a gradually emerging new character. But it wasn't to be.
The final blow really came in the last third of the book, where it seems that all the action has been packed. Unfortunately most of this 'action' involves a complete 180 in Jondalar's character, without any of the run up or hints that might have made it less out of the blue. This, coupled with a strange change in Ayla's character and values, is what really saddens me, because it seems as if all of the careful building and establishment of Ayla and Jondalar's relationship has been dashed against the wall for the sake of a little excitement.
All in all, the main thing it seems to get across is that something in the author's life has changed, and it's affected the story because of it. Where once there was a delight in detailing the lush, in-depth (sometimes slightly /too/ long) descriptions of the changing landscapes and daily life of these people, now it seems as if that passion has diminished. The time leaps through the years and even the strangely chopped up chapters make it a difficult read in places, and the overall flow and 'weight' of the book in terms of action don't compare with the much tighter, more structured earlier novels. For the most part, I think a lot of these problems can be laid at the feet of the editor. A good editor would have picked her up on this, found ways to make the time jumps smoother, and also given her some constructively critical advice on the advancement and pacing of the plot. Unfortunately, either the editor didn't spot these or wasn't capable of doing what needed to be done and the book suffers for it.
After all of the build up to this climatic last book it seems a great disservice to the series to have ended it like this. I can only hope she regains her passion and writes one last book that goes some way to tying up the loose ends. To leave it like this would be heartbreaking.