Thursday, 31 March 2011

Book Review: The Clan Of The Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

Goodreads synopsis

When her parents are killed by an earthquake, 5-year-old Ayla wanders through the forest completely alone. Cold, hungry, and badly injured by a cave lion, the little girl is as good as gone until she is discovered by a group who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear. This clan, left homeless by the same disaster, have little interest in the helpless girl who comes from the tribe they refer to as the "Others." Only their medicine woman sees in Ayla a fellow human, worthy of care. She painstakingly nurses her back to health--a decision that will forever alter the physical and emotional structure of the clan.

Although this story takes place roughly 35,000 years ago, its cast of characters could easily slide into any modern tale. The members of the Neanderthal clan, ruled by traditions and taboos, find themselves challenged by this outsider, who represents the physically modern Cro-Magnons. And as Ayla begins to grow and mature, her natural tendencies emerge, putting her in the middle of a brutal and dangerous power struggle. Although Jean Auel obviously takes certain liberties with the actions and motivations of all our ancestors, her extensive research into the Ice Age does shine through--especially in the detailed knowledge of plants and natural remedies used by the medicine woman and passed down to Ayla. Mostly, though, this first in the series of four is a wonderful story of survival. Ayla's personal evolution is a compelling and relevant tale.

My thoughts

I'd never heard of this book before I was asked to review it but when I looked up the synopsis on Goodreads, I thought it looked really interesting and there were lots of Goodreads, so I was really excited when it arrived through my post box.

Ayla, a girl born to the Others is five when she is found by the Clan when they are on their search for their new cave. Starved and frail, the medicine women Iza takes pity on her and pleads with the leader of the Clan (Brun) to let her travel with them so she can be nursed back to health. Little does he know how Ayla will eventually change the Clan forever...

Ayla in the Clan Of The Cave Bear
Ayla is an amazing character because she suffers so much pain and hardship but she fights to survive and never gives up on what she believes is right. Everthing about her is different and strange to the Clan and her striking blonde hair, blue eyes and tallness. The challenges she has to overcome in becoming a member of the clan such as prejudice and learning their customs are many. I loved seeing Alya grow throughout the book and try to conform to the ways of the clan to stay out of trouble. She stood up to Broud's (the son of the leader of the clan) hatred of her and his cruelty towards her very well and showed the strength and courage of her character. Somehow, she managed to worm my way into her heart and it felt like I was experiencing everything with her even when I was frustrated about how long the book was taking me to read.

Each of the other characters are bought to life really well and I could see Creb's one eyed and disfigured but gentle and affectionate face and picture Iza the medicine woman foraging for roots for her medicine bag very clearly. I loved the special and loving bond that Ayla had with Iza and Creb, who are like parents to her since they bought her up and Iza is much more of a mother to Alya than the women who birthed her that Ayla has no memory of. I think that the characters are the true strength of the novel and why the series has become so popular.

The author has created a world totally different to the one we know now and you can tell that it has been meticulously researched. The Clan race have no foreheads but instead a huge brain at the rear of their heads to store memories that are passed on through generations to help the clan to survive. They live in a world where no progress has been made for virtually 2,000 years, children become adults at the age of about 9 and can mate straight afterwards and being in your mid-20s is considered old. I loved learning about the ways and customs of the ancient people from their beliefs about totems and the spirit world, the rankings in their society, the different plants and herbs that they used as medicines and the way they hunted. However, there are no unnecessary facts or details that have put in just for the sake of it because they all fit into the everyday life of the Clan.

At the beginning of the book I was very put off by the large numbers of characters that were introduced with very similar names and the overly descriptive writing and it felt like hard work to trawl through the first chapters but I soon became absorbed by the story later on. The writing was still very descriptive and different from the simpler styles of the YA books I've been reading recently but I came to appreciate it later on because it is that that makes the world in the book seem so real and tangible for real prehistoric days. So, if you decide to read this book, don't be put off by that!

One thing I would say about this book is it does have a bit of sexual content in 'mating' scenes that I had to skim over. This was to show how this was a way of life for the Clan. It's a shame about this because I think teenagers like me will enjoy the book even though it is written for adults. I've heard that this is worse in the following books so I don't know if I'll be allowed to read them right now considering I'm only (in a month) 14.

Final words: The Clan Of The Cave Bear is a story of coming of age, hardships, friendships, hope and survival. It is one of those books where I only realised how much I enjoyed it after I'd finished. Once I'd put the book down, I realised how close I had become to the characters and wanted to find out what would happen to them. If you're looking for something a little bit different, then this would be a brilliant choice.I can't wait to find out what happens to Ayla in the next installment of her journey!
Rating: 4.5

The final book in the series, The Land Of Painted Caves was released 2 days ago, on the 29th of March.

Thank you to Kate at Holler for sending me a review copy of this book.


  1. Yay! I'm so glad you liked it! It's been sitting on my shelf for ages and I really need to get to it.

  2. Great review, really.
    I have this book sitting on my virtual book shelf for a while now.

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  4. One of my good friends recommended this series to me. You are really making me want to read it now. So many books, so little time!



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