5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A game of two halves...,
This review is from: The Valley of Horses (Earth's Children) (Paperback)
The problem with sequels is that they face the difficult task of preserving the spirit of their predecessor, while introducing enough new elements that they don't feel like a retread of previous ground. For the most part I'm pleased to say that Valley of Horses manages to walk this tightrope. It wobbles on a few occasions and doesn't always proceed gracefully, but it makes it to the end without taking a tumble, and that's impressive.
Valley of Horses picks up more or less where Clan of the Cave Bear left off. Ayla, freshly banished from the Clan, is left to wander the world alone with the vague goal of finding her own people and living happily ever after. After some tedious wandering, and with winter fast approaching, she happens upon a sheltered valley where she decides to hole up and plan her next move. Time passes however and she becomes increasingly reluctant to leave her refuge.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, Jondalar is setting out on a Journey with his younger (and more interesting) brother Thonolan. Basically it's the ice age equivalent of a road trip; a chance to spread their wings and have a few adventures before settling down. One doesn't have to be psychic to realise that all doesn't go according to plan for them, and that an encounter with Ayla is as inevitable as a rain-washed British summer.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. The problem with this book is that for about two thirds of its length, it's essentially two completely different and unrelated stories, and sometimes the switch can be a little jarring. Just when you're really getting into a particular character's story, the book abruptly switches to the other character thousands of miles away.
Also, the two plot arcs are oddly unbalanced. Jondalar's section features more progression and interaction, yet Ayla's is arguably the more compelling story. Perhaps because Ayla is the only character remaining from Clan of the Cave Bear, Jondalar sometimes feels like an unwelcome guest - like someone you passed on the street suddenly appearing at your front door asking to come in for tea and biscuits.
Ultimately this is kind of a moot point anyway, since the real meat of the story doesn't occur until Jondalar and Ayla finally encounter each other. I have to admit, I've never been a huge fan of Jondalar as a character, but this part of the novel is pure gold. With nobody else around and no distractions, their relationship is stripped right down to the bare bones, and it's fascinating to read. How do people from such vastly different backgrounds relate to each other? How do they build the beginnings of a friendship when they don't even have a common language?
Admittedly the book does throw in a little too much cliched romance at times (a theme that would land like an obese mammoth on the next book in the series) but for the most part it's actually quite well handled. There's a certain charming innocence to their interactions, like school kids awkwardly groping for a way to express their feelings. The outwardly competent but socially naive Ayla is a sharp contrast to the emotionally troubled and immature Jondalar, and the two play off well against each other.
Valley of Horses is a solid, well written book, utilising Auel's uncomplicated style to paint a rich picture of the world her characters inhabit. She really seems to have hit her stride in this book, and very few sections struck me as rough or underdeveloped.
Having said that, the dreaded descriptions of plants, tools and animals are back. Again, they interfere with the narrative flow like they did in Clan of the Cave Bear, though their impact is lessened in Ayla's sections by virtue of the fact that nothing else is going on around her. In those instances, it can actually (and I can't believe I'm about to say this) sometimes be fun to learn about flint knapping or spear making. Watching Ayla gradually throw of the shackles of Clan beliefs during her time in isolation is an absolute joy, and one almost shares her sense of accomplishment at every little step she takes. Of course, her sense of loneliness and longing for human contact is equally palpable, making her story of survival as much a battle of the mind as the elements.
Many fans of the series point to Valley of Horses as their favourite, and while I'd caution readers that its storyline isn't as compelling or moving as Clan of the Cave Bear, I'd be inclined to agree with them. It takes the main character in a new direction, introducing new elements while never losing sight of where it came from. Overall, Valley of Horses is a worthy follow up to a great novel, and a genuinely satisfying progression in the series.