The Clan of the Cave Bear
Ayla is a courageous and indomitable young woman whose story begins when she is a five-year-old orphan adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthals. Ayla is cared for by the Clan's medicine woman Iza and its wise holy man Creb. Iza teaches her how to find food and the healing skills known only to her line, but Ayla must also learn the ways of the Clan. Full of curiosity, interest and rebelliousness, she does not always obey the Clan's rules and so she makes an implacable enemy of the group's future leader. Broud will do all he can to destroy her, but Ayla is a survivor.
Reviewed on 8th August 2012
The Clan of the Cave Bear is an epic tale of Ayla, an orphaned 'Cro-Magnon' girl living 30,000 years ago and brought up by a Neanderthal clan. The level of historical detail is impressive and it's clear the author has done a lot of research into her era, however I found the story to be overly long and had to take a break halfway through to read something else.
The characters are good - the clan is made up of a rounded bunch of individuals who are all compelling and interesting to spend time with. The narrative though flits randomly between alignment with Ayla and other clan members, sometimes within the same paragraph, which makes it difficult to keep track.
There are also plenty of moments where the narration becomes anachronistic and uses metaphors that wouldn't make sense in the setting, and demonstrate amazing foresight, which really jars with the historical setting. Similarly there is a lack of subtlety in the foreshadowing throughout, which left me in no doubt about what was going to happen and willing the plot to move on - for chapter after chapter.
The other big problem I had with the story was the introduction of fantasy elements that seemed unnecessary to the plot, which I felt could have worked without them. This came after quite a good chuck of historical realism so seemed quite out of place.
Overall, I have to give credit to the idea and the characters, but the text itself was overly repetitive and could have been half as long. I was glad to find that the last fifty pages of my copy were actually a preview of the sequel and I could stop reading earlier than expected.