The Valley of Horses - Jean M. Auel, Sandra Burr I've never seen a series take such a downturn so fast!

When we last saw Ayla in The Clan of the Cave Bear, she had been banished, sentenced to death by the clan leader, Broud, who hated her. The Valley of the Horses takes place immediately after, as Ayla begins to wander the steppes in pursuit of her people. Eventually, she settles in a valley populated with horses. While she is there, she befriends a horse and ekes out a living.

Oh.

My.

God.

I don't think I've ever seen a series shoot itself in the foot so early on. I've seen series suffer burnout, the author tossing up his or her hands and saying "I just don't give a damn anymore", but usually this occurs, oh, say, six books in the series after he or she has drug the main characters all over the universe to death and back again. At this point, I figure the author is thinking, "Looks like I can't write anything but another teenaged emosparklyvampire series, might as well milk this one as best as I can before I hit the unemployment line". (I know Frank L. Baum of the Oz series would agree with me if he were alive.)

The Valley of the Horses should be the sixth book in the series by that reckoning. The amount of WTF in this book is near critical levels. Characters bounce all over the place, problems that were hinted at in the first book appear here 10X worse, and generally the story stops being about the person I became invested in: it stopped being about Ayla.

Now, that's not to say there aren't good parts. Sure, you might need a electron microscope in order to find them, but they are still there. The Ayla sections of the first half are excellent, exactly what we've come to expect and love from The Clan of the Cave Bear. Ayla journeys across the steppes, Ayla must try to fend for herself, to find food and clothing and shelter. Sure, she has started accumulating a rather eye-brow raising list of inventions (the calendar, horseback riding, animal domestication, flint, reproduction--did you know it was Broud's organ that created her son, Durk?), but you know what? Even that I could buy. She is by herself, she must invent or die. She loves animals and has been tending them since she was a child, so it isn't unexpected for her to continue this into her adulthood. The calendar thing is also hinted at back in the first book, when Ayla peppers Creb with questions about days and counting. Yes, Ayla is getting close to Mary Sue territory, but this is her story. I'll believe it.

UNTIL Auel adds Jondalar. Who is Jondalar? Let me introduce you to him:

Meet Jondalar:



Jondalar is the most attractive, strong, intelligent, sexy, wonderful, skilled, muscular, thoughtful, generous, kind man you will EVER meet. He is MINDBLOWING in the sack (but WATCH OUT! Most women can't take it ALL *eyebrow wiggle* if you know what I mean!). His blue eyes are enough to make the cave panties wet. He is the BEST toolmaker EVER (and NO, I do NOT mean that kind of tool!). HE LOVE SO MUCH AND SO HARD THAT NO ONE CAN ENDURE IT. Jondalar is freakin' God incarnate.

And THAT is the beginning of what kills the story. THAT is what makes this book, which could have been interesting, absolutely dreadful. Because once Jondalar walks onto the set, the story ceases to be about Ayla and instead becomes about Jondalar.

(Hey, I don't know if I've mentioned it...did you know that Broud's organ created Durk? The Clan believed it was a battle between totems, but Ayla is pretty sure it's a man's organ that creates babies.)

I don't mind Ayla finding companionship. I don't mind her finding love. I DO mind it when the whole story's emphasis is on a man we've only just met and have no real reason to like. I NEVER liked Jondalar. EVER. The author tries to sell me on how wonderful he is by having EVERYONE gush about him (and trust me, EVERYONE does), but I went into convulsions every time I had to hear all the "wonderful" things about this tool. And *this* is the man Ayla ends up with? I would ask for an exchange!

So while Ayla is busy trying to survive, I get stuck listening to Jondalar and his doofus brother doing stupid and pointless things on their spiritual journey. I get to hear a bajillion arguments the two of them have about where they should go ("No, Jondalar, let's go to the mountains!" "No, Thonalan, we should head to the river!" "Let's stay with these people!" "No, we need to move on!"), how awesome Jondalar is, and how much they want to bonk women. Oh, and as if the latter weren't enough, I get TWO fairly graphic sex scenes of Jondalar with some chick on her First Rites and Serenio (or some other woman whose purpose was only to provide another sex scene to show Jondalar's Mad Skilz in the cave bedroom) and Thonalan falls into insta-lust with some woman whom he can't even converse with for several pages.

(BTW, I have to mention it, but there is a horse sex scene in this book. Yes, a horse sex scene. And it turns Ayla on. And Ayla, being so bright and intelligent, doesn't know WHY she feels all horny-like.)

None of this ends up mattering because a plot contrivance sends Thonalan and Jondalar back into the wild and completely negating the last billion pages Caveman Time Wasting. Thonalan is an idiot and tries to chase after some meat that a cave lion stole (REALLY!?!?!) and is killed. Ayla comes to the rescue and FINALLY, FINALLY after nearly 3/4 of the book, Ayla and Jondalar meet.

At this point, I was actually pumped. FINALLY, there was a point to Jondalar! Finally, we would get around to what has been alluded to since the first book. But NO! Instead, now we get hastily contrived resolutions to the language barrier (Creb comes to Ayla in a dream and POW! she speaks Jondalar's language!), Jondalar getting a hard on nearly every other time he sees Ayla (along with groin pains, which tells me he needs to see someone about his urinary tract infection), Ayla wanting Jondalar to sex her up, but Jondalar not doing so because he thinks she is in healing training. Or something. Oh, yeah, and also during this whole time, Jondalar hardly talks about his dead brother and when he finds out it was Ayla's cave lion that killed Thonalan (and she chased the cave lion away), he is like, "Wow, you must be a spirit to have such control over animals".

(Did you know that Broud's organ created Durk? Ayla isn't totally sure, but she thinks it is a man's organ that makes a baby, not a fight between totems.)

When the two FINALLY talk it over, Jondalar initially can't get past his "Ew, she had sex with a flathead! Flathead cooties!" But this doesn't last too long...Ayla is the PERFECT woman, with the perfect breasts, perfect lips, perfect hair, perfect ba-donka-donk. Jondalar is pretty sure we wouldn't remember this or figure it out for ourselves, so he makes sure to remind us. OFTEN.



After a few more sex scenes that get repetitive to the max (which is NUTS, yes, there have been about 6 in this book, but I wouldn't think the sex would get repetitive THAT fast), Jondalar says he is going away...and a dream changes his mind. He declares his TWOO LURVE to Ayla, and Ayla reciprocates. They talk endlessly about wanting to pleasure each other, Ayla suddenly learns how to deep throat, and the book ends with a hint about meeting the Mammoth Hunters.

The Clan of the Cave Bear was unique, interesting, and captivating. The characters were well created, the story was fantastic, the setting filled with great details (although at times, these got to be a little excessive). It's become one of my favorite books.

THIS book, however, is a disgrace. It took all the things I loved about The Clan of the Cave Bear, set them on fire, and chucked them over a cliff. The characters become obnoxious, the story becomes a standard, not well-written or interesting romance, research is presented for the sake of research, and sex replaces good character moments and character growth. The best parts of this book are the Ayla chapters in the first half. They are solid, well-constructed and bear the most similarity to the first book. Once Jondalar enters the story full-time, the story's quality drops drastically.

Normally, I would give up on this series right here, but I have a death wish. This book has, oddly enough, been a delight to listen to, mostly because of the heaps of WTFery in it. Therefore, I am going to continue my journey with The Mammoth Hunters and keep my fingers crossed that it is better (and secretly hope it is not!).

ADDENDUM: I've rated this three stars, mostly because I want to see how "The Mammoth Hunters" is before putting a solid rating in place...and YOU thought I was going to take this time and tell you how it was Broud's organ that created Durk! HAH!