THE SHELTERS OF STONE
Jean M. Auel

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Bantam Books paperback, July 2003
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

THE SHELTERS OF STONE is the fifth in the Earth's Children series of prehistoric times. It opens with Ayla's arrival at the camp site of the Zelandoni People, set along the limestone cliff caves of southwestern France. Ayla accompanies Jondalar, a warrior of the Zelandoni people, on his year long journey home to introduce Ayla as his intended mate.

Ayla, the nomadic warrior woman, stuns the Zelandoni People with her amazing gift for domesticating wild animals and her knowledge of healing herbs. Her companions, Wolf, and horses, Whinney and Racer, frighten the new tribesmen who have never seen animals friendly to humans. Ayla's halting speech and tales of adoption by the "flatheads," the people she calls the Clan, scandalize Jondalar's people. The Zelandoni view "flatheads" as little more than animals, and Ayla's foreign accent and strange tales create obstacles to her acceptance among the new tribe.

Jondalar returns from his long Journey to the welcome of his family; mother, Marthona and her mate Willamar, the Trade Master, sister, Folara and brother Joharran, Leader of the Ninth Cave. Jondalar left the tribe, in part, because he was forbidden to marry the woman he loved, Zolena. She was the woman who introduced him to the Gift of Sensual Pleasure, but she was destined to be the tribal healer and Zelandonii Leader. During his Journey to unknown lands Zolena became the Zelandonii Leader, and changed from a voluptuous older woman into a wise, obese, tribal leader. Will the Zelandonii Leader allow Ayla, the beautiful, extraordinary woman who already carries his child, into the Zelandoni Tribe, and bless their marriage at the Summer Meeting?

THE SHELTERS OF STONE is an exceptional novel in the sense of the author's ability to breathe life into prehistoric times. The cast of characters are more highly evolved than the typical caveman most readers could imagine or expect. Ayla has been endowed with modern viewpoints of gender equality that shape her personality, making her a sort of prehistoric feminist, independent of male domination and free of needing any man to care for her. Jondalar and all the Zelandoni People possess a "free spirit" attitude towards sexual behavior which seems a little contradictory to the accepted territorial, primitive male viewpoint, again, making the story seem more idealistic than realistic. But, I doubt these observations will bother anyone because Ms. Auel has created an incredible portrait of early civilizations.

The plot turns on Ayla's struggle for acceptance, including minor conflicts and trouble within the new tribe, a few hunting and natural dangers for added drama, and a narrative punctuated with rich historical details. Written in third person, I found the Wolf's viewpoint a surprising and interesting twist. Fans of Ms. Auel will enjoy this novel after waiting twelve years for the latest installment; new readers looking for something fresh and different will definitely find it here.

 

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