I really, really wanted to love this book.
I have read the previous four at least 8 times each, averaging one or two volumes every 18 months over the past 20 years. With the latest release I have realised that the main joy of the previous volumes was Ayla's continual discoveries and innovations in survival situations. There are no discoveries in Shelters of Stone except for a limestone cave. An empty limestone cave. An empty limestone cave with blank white walls, perhaps the perfect symbol for this entire book. But that's only the start of the problems.
There was so much wasted potential here, so many, many plotlines that could have been explored, if only Ms Auel's passion had been present during the writing of it, but I'll get to that theory in a moment.
This book hurt to read, and it was irritating and finally it made me angry. I feel very let down. In an ordered list, here's why:
1. Throughout the previous three books, Jondalar made frequent references to his mother's mate, Willomar. In SoS, it was spelled Willamar. The first time I read it I thought I had found the first typo. After the 75th time, it was like getting popped with hot bacon fat. The author has been quoted as saying she changed the spelling because she felt it was more in keeping with how the character would have spelled his name. My question is, why is spelling an issue when it regards people who have no written language?
2. The instant Ms. Auel seemed to be flirting with a dramatic scene or actual character development, she interrupted-Sometimes In The Very Midst Of A Conversation(!)-with a page and a half treatise on why a certain oil might be used for a stone lamp...
3. There was a cast of a 75-80 characters that reminded me of those life-size cardboard cut-outs you buy in movie memorabilia shops. Why? In "The Mammoth Hunters" readers were introduced to nearly that many, yet each character had a distinct personality that added to the story. Maybe I just answered my own question...there was no story here, so why should I expect memorable people?
4. There are two ways to write sequels. One is to assume the previous books have been read and the other is to approach each book as a standalone. In the case of the Earth's Children series I would recommend that Ms. Auel assumes 95% of her public has read, re-read and recall with love the previous books and that they deserve the finest literary experience she is capable of delivering. I've been able to deal with repetition in previous volumes by skipping *that paragraph or so* and getting back to the story. In SoS I found myself skipping Entire Pages and hoping there was a story to get back to. And what is up with this Mother's Song? Not only is it too long and mind-numblingly banal, it is repeated three times and added as an addendum at the end. At this rate, I almost expect to see it with background music on a CD as well. My god. In Ms Auel's favour, she did not once mention that wolverine fur is great on hoods because they don't frost up from your breath. It's not much, but I am willing to give credit where credit is due. The major difficulty was the repetition, in some cases lifted word for word for **several pages** from the previous books, an obvious and inexcusable example of the purest laziness I have ever seen. And how many times must we read what we have read before, told again and again to different characters? And the long, drawn-out introductions including ties to everyone you've ever known? Get surnames, people! Sorry, I am starting to froth at the mouth. And repeat myself.
5. Misspellings, contextual inconsistencies and sophomoric writing. example: page 413:
"It seemed like a long time since he had held her like this, then she realized it had been a long time."
This is SO Wrong. If this was a first time effort, this book would never have seen the light of day. No one would have published it without serious editing, and even then probably not, for the simple fact that it happened to be 700-plus pages in search of A Plot.
In closing, borrow it if you have to, read it and spread the word:
We, the faithful readership, have been well and truly swizzed on this one. And that's a shame.