Book Review: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel

Book 4 in the “Earth’s Children” series

After the soap-ish love triangle of the third book I opened this with trepidation but feeling happy that the blurb made it seem more like the first two in the series. Overall, I think this series has generally got worse and that Auel has shed what made the first book so impressive in favour of appealing to a chic-lit audience.

What we have here effectively is a road trip with no roads but a whole lot of tribes, creatures, landscapes, environmental dangers and mobility problems to think about. Some fan reviews I’ve read state that the heavy description and little action made this dull, I must confess that this for me was amongst the books strengths. I continue to take pleasure in the description and Auel’s research even though I concur that there are few actual events. Here we really get to explore a significant part of ice age Europe as they follow the Danube westwards.

Of course there are weaknesses, it is over-written. Conversations covering old ground go on for tens and tens of pages. Every time Ayla wants to stop to collect medicinal plants or they spy a particularly juicy deer, they hold not one but two conferences. The first beforehand to discuss whether they should stop and a second afterwards to discuss what they did and the implications for the remainder of their journey. Oh and then they usually have make-up sex afterward especially if Jondalar feels that he was particularly harsh in raising his voice more than one octave. This does get tedious and the book could have lost at least 150 pages for the sake of flow.

It doesn’t really get interesting until the halfway point so if you are an impatient reader, you won’t lose anything in skim-reading the first few hundred pages. Poor editing reigns supreme here, so far this and the book that preceded it could have been stronger for being between 100 and 150 pages shorter.

I’m also a little fed up with being told how beautiful and generally awesome the pair are as they travel Europe single-handedly advancing technology to the backward tribes, liberating the oppressed and being begged to stay with everyone they meet, oh and stopping to have sex every few hours. It also gets boring to hear about how sickeningly perfect they are and how perfect for each other they are. Please, just tone it down for the last two books?

With two books to go, I am in no hurry to complete the series. Reading it I can’t say I found it enjoyable but I can see that Auel put a lot of hard work into it and for that I appreciate it more than The Mammoth Hunters and consider it a more solid work than The Valley of Horses even though I preferred the story of the second book and that of the first half of the third book.

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