Book Review: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel

The Adventures of Ayla and Jondalar continues as they leave the comforts of the valley that had become their home and begin the long journey back to Jondalar’s Zelandoni homeland.

At the end of The Valley of Horses they make contact with a tribe known as Mamutoi (Mammoth Hunters) and the pair are invited to stay at their hearth. This creates an interesting start: this is the first actual tribe of anatomically modern humans that Ayla encounters. She is reticent, mostly because of the horror stories she had heard from the Clan, but the Mamutoi are welcoming and curious of the strange girl and the incredible range of skills she has. They do not recognise her accent and are interested to learn as much about her as they can. They have encountered most tribes but are unable to place her.

After a while, and with Ayla choosing to be (mostly) upfront about her past with the Clan, she encounters mixed feelings. Anti “flathead” feeling runs deep but Ayla is largely accepted. The most interesting relationship that Ayla has is with Mamut, the holy man with whom Ayla draws obvious comparisons with Creb (the Clan holy man of whom she was very fond). He has had experience with the “flatheads” when one nursed him back to health as a young boy and it seems to be the same story that Iza once told Ayla. Their journey of discovery and Mamut’s attempts to discover Ayla’s powers and figure out what the The Great Earth Mother has in store for Ayla and Jondalar makes for an intriguing plot thread.

Unfortunately that is not the primary plot thread because that is a very soap opera-ish love triangle with an adopted Mamutoi named Ranec. So again we delve back into Bella and Edward: The Flintstones Years (yawn) as Ayla engages in sexual aerobics with both men. I wouldn’t mind so much, but this love triangle detracts from the journey of discovery and the otherwise superbly researched narrative and detail of Mamutoi day-to-day living. I also wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t find Ranec genuinely creepy. His infatuation with Ayla crosses the line into stalker territory, what the hell she sees in him (aside from his “laughing eyes”, darker skin and tales of strange places) I could not fathom. Jondalar’s jealousy at their all night sex sessions is wearisome; there is no tension of the will-they-won’t-they plot for me, just frustrated irritation that a good plot and superb research is being wasted on lazy teen angst storylines.

The inventions have been toned down, Ayla hasn’t quite kickstarted the Bronze Age 25,000 years ahead of schedule you’ll be pleased to know, but she does carry on the Doctor Dolittle act in domesticating a wolf (oh I can see it already that Ayla has single-handedly domesticated the dog). The ending has an incredibly well-written mammoth hunt and the love triangle comes limping to an end. Needless to say I breathed a sigh of relief, but not the way Auel intended. I’m looking forward to the next one, but with slightly less enthusiasm.

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