The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, #1) - Jean M. Auel, Sandra Burr "The Land of Painted Caves. While I had read that that book wasn't so hot, I did read reviews that praised the first few books. So I went out and got my hands on an audiobook of the first in the Earth's Children series.

First off, I have to give kudos to Auel for all the research and time she put into this novel. This woman didn't go, "I'm going to write a pre-historic novel" and then just throw in some almost modern humans in a wallpaper world. This book transports you back before cars and computers, before women's rights and civil rights, into a fantasy realm of what the world might have been like before the modern age. It was vibrant and meticulously detailed. I loved how the Others could speak but the Clan could not; how the Clan could access memories but were bad at new innovations while the opposite was true of the Others. A lesser author, like I said, would have seen the work needed and given up; Auel pushed on and produced a damn fine novel.

Besides the vibrant setting, the characters were detailed and intricate. My favorites were Iza and Creb, but I also liked Ayla herself, Brun, and Ooba (sp?). I liked how Iza embraced Ayla and was thoughtful enough to pass along the medicine woman trade, trying to think of Ayla's future. Iza was a warm, loving, kind-hearted, strong woman. Creb was fantastic. I thought he was sweet and kind, a good father-figure for Ayla, and I loved the comparisons between him and Ayla and between him and Ayla's son, Dirk. Ayla was a great character; she grows so much throughout the book. She tries to find her place in the clan; she is constantly testing the boundaries, but not because she is always defiant. Ayla is just not Clan; she is of the Others, and that breeding comes through. I liked the differences that she accented between Clan and Others: speech, crying, differences in body shape (I really liked how the Clan had a different perception of beauty). There were a few times when she (or her son) got really close to that Mary Sue line--the amount of times she breaks rules and is able to keep from being killed is pretty astonishing. However, I think Ayla did have enough faults, and was legitimately punished enough that I didn't focus on it too much. (I wonder, though, how far it is into the series before her turn to Mary Sue-ism comes is complete.) Brun was a great strong leader; he listened to his people, but wasn't afraid of action, afraid of punishment. And Ooba became such a sweet, loving sister to Ayla. I couldn't help but think of me and my sister when I read about the two.

The story meanders along Ayla's life, her struggles to become Clan, and her tension with Broud. I loved how she learned to hunt with a sling, and I liked how she became a good medicine woman, how she would drop everything to try to save someone's life. I got to learn so much in this book, my mind was bent to new depths--what would life be like living in a cave? What was the world like before?

If anything about the story bugged me, it would be the sudden departures into talking about mixing medicines. As I said above, I loved the research Auel put into this book; that said, inserting several passages ONLY to show what plants mixed with what roots would make a cure for this ailment got old. Fast. Fortunately, there were not TOO many of these scenes, but there were enough to be noteworthy.

Also, there is quite a bit of violence/abuse in this novel. Women are basically treated like property. Men can beat women and be completely justified--this happens to Ayla quite a few times in the book. Men also can force a woman to have sex whenever the desire hits them--even if the woman is not their wife. Again, this happens to Ayla quite a bit, in a rather uncomfortable rape montage (nothing is too graphic, however). While I am sure this is more realistic than having Clan women burning their bras (or whatever they would have used for bras), it is not for everyone and was rather uncomfortable at times to listen to. Sometimes, I wanted to smack some sense into these Clan men--how dare you treat someone like that! Being female does NOT mean being stupid and being unable to think for yourself! Ultimately, I appreciated how Auel did NOT resort to writing the Clan as if they were wise, with modern sensibilities about feminism...but I still hated the abuse.

I honestly cannot wait to start reading the next book. I am desperate to know what happens to Ayla...does she meet up with her people? Does she find a mate? I've read enough reviews to know some of the answers to my questions, but that doesn't make me any less eager to read for myself. I greatly enjoyed reading this prehistoric journey, and I definitely recommend--with the caveat that there is some abuse/violence to be on the lookout for.