Thats what fans of Jean Auel have been screaming for awhile now, as they have waited patiently over the past 12 years for “The Shelters of Stone,“ the fifth installment in her phenomenal Earths Childrens series, to come out.
At long last, it has, and faster than you can say “Cro-Magnon“ three times really fast, it has shot to the top of best seller lists, though it has been out for just a week now.
Fans, especially those who have followed the series since it burst onto the literary world in 1980 with “Clan of the Cave Bear“ and possessing all the crackle of the first-ever sparks of flame being lit, wont be disappointed at all. The length of time that has passed may actually have been a savvy move in ushering in a new generation of readers to heroine Ayla, a cavewoman raised by Neanderthals whose intelligence, beauty, and uncanny ability to light fires, heal, tame wild animals, and endure the harshest fates nature and humankind can dish at her renders her an outsider in her own tribe and a soulmate to hunky Jondalar.
Their exploits have been captured in four other hefty novels that sold a whopping 34 million copies altogether and have given the world one of the best-researched and most engaging looks at the earliest days of civilization ever crafted. They may each have taken time to produce, but Auel, a brainy Oregon housewife who began writing the series because she herself was curious about what life was like some 30,000 years ago, has earned the respect of archaeologists and anthropologists around the world, and has an international fan base for her work.
In “Shelter,“ Ayla is pregnant, and having made an epic trek across Europe with Jondalar and a pack of compliant animals, has arrived at his home to meet the people of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, which includes his family and former love. In the opening moments of the first chapter, Auel sets a familiar mood:
“People were gathering on the limestone ledge, looking down at them warily. No one made a gesture of welcome, and some held spears in positions of readiness if not actual threat. The young woman could almost feel their edgy fear. She watched from the bottom of the path as more people crowded together on the ledge, staring down, many more than she thought there would be. She had seen that reluctance to greet them from other people they had met on their Journey. Its not just them, she told herself, its always that way in the beginning. But she felt uneasy. The tall man jumped down from the back of the young stallion. He was neither reluctant nor uneasy, but he hesitated for a moment, holding the stallions halter rope. He turned around and noticed that she was hanging back.“Ayla, will you hold Racers rope? He seems nervous,“ he said, then looked up at the ledge. “I guess they do, too.“ She nodded, lifted her leg over, slid down from the mares back, and took the rope. In addition to the tension of seeing strange people, the young brown horse was still agitated around his dam. She was no longer in heat, but residual odors still clung from her encounter with the herd stallion. Ayla held the halter rope of the brown male close, but gave the dun-yellow mare a long lead, and stood between them. She considered giving Whinney her head; her horse was more accustomed to large groups of strangers now, and was not usually high-strung, but she seemed nervous, too. That throng of people would make anyone nervous. When the wolf appeared, Ayla heard sounds of agitation and alarm from the ledge in front of the cave--if it could be called a cave. Shed never seen one quite like it. Wolf pressed against the side of her leg and moved somewhat in front of her, suspiciously defensive; she could feel the vibration of his barely audible growl. He was much more guarded around strangers now than he had been when they began their long Journey a year before, but he had been little more than a puppy then, and he had become more protective of her after some perilous experiences. As the man strode up the incline toward the apprehensive people, he showed no fear, but the woman was glad for the opportunity to wait behind and observe them before she had to meet them. Shed been expecting--dreading--this moment for more than a year, and first impressions were important . . . on both sides.“
Ayla is fascinated with nearly every aspect of Zelandonii life, especially their female spiritual leader with whom she feels a strong bond, but not all of Jondalars people are as accepting of her. As she prepares for a formal mating at the Summer Meeting and to give birth, she is again treated with suspicion and prejudice and placed in a myriad of situations that call upon the most resourceful of her instincts and skills. The new society in which she is living is a complicated and changing one, where love and comfort is balanced with prejudice and danger, and one must adapt, or perish.
“Shelter“ isnt the strongest of the series and is actually a bit plodding in parts. Since the previous books have focused on Ayla and Jondalars journey to reach his people, this one almost seems a bit anti-climactic, given that theyve finally arrived. Still, this is a worthy link in the chain, and all of Auels trademarks are here - steamy sex, fertile imagination, incredible attention to detail, and an ending that begs for a follow-up (which Auel is currently working on and promises to deliver in shorter time than this one took). There is even a well-constructed rhythmic poem that describes the birth of Earths Children and plays a role in the storys narrative. If the bulk of the novel seems daunting or you have a preference for books on tape, the audio version has