The Valley of the Horses
By Jean M. Auel
This book is actually two story lines that converge two thirds of the way through the book. The first is of course Aylas story. Now banished from the Clan and forced to leave her son behind, Ayla travels North to find her own kind. During her travels she finds a nice cave in a sheltered valley/canyon in the middle of the northern steppes. Tired of travelling and worried about the coming winter, having found a cave she can live in, she decides to stay there, 'just till spring' but ends up finding peace and freedom there.
She hunts a horse and finds a baby filly she had unintentionally orphaned and so takes the filly in and looks after it. Time and affection forges a bond between Ayla and the horse and she teaches herself how to ride and accidentally invents the travois with her long spears during a hunting trip. During one of her hunting trips, Ayla causes a herd of deer to stampede and she finds a baby cave lion injured during the stampede. Ayla takes him in as well and raises him along side her now adult horse.
The second story line is that of Thonolan and Jondalar. Two brothers originally from ancient France who make an epic three year journey to follow the danube river, known in this series as 'the great mother river', all the way to it's end. Starting from it's source, a glacier in south Germany, all the way to Ukraine and south Russia/Belarus.
There's is a tale of discovery, learning, tragedy and love. One of the was even ready to settle down and create a family until he loses his new bride in child birth. Driven by grief he continues his adventure, followed by his brother trying to make sure he doesn't do anything reckless, that is until he does do something fatally stupid and meets a very particular adult Cave Lion and a very particular valley.
Ayla finds the brothers, one dead and one dying. She is able to remove the dying one to safety due to her relationship with this particular Cave lion. She nurses him to health and he teaches her to talk. Literally how to talk since she has long forgotten how to use the finer controls of her vocal abilities.
This book contains sex scenes, gore, death and character experiencing suicidal depression.
When I first read this book Thonolan and Jondalars story used to drive me bonkers and I just couldn't wait to get back to Aylas story. Now as an older reader and also as a re-reader, I appreciate it more because it contains a lot of world building and plot history that makes the series as a whole more thought out.
Also as an older reader I appreciate the research that the author did which can be seen in the first few pages that reference different carvings found around the regions, a few of them referenced in the book. It adds a level of realism that makes the story feel more like it could have potentially been true.
Another thing this series does is describe the building/making process of many things. From how ancient cro-magnon/homo sapiens made boats to methods used to knapp flint into tools. It makes the reader feel like they could almost do it them selves if it wasn't for the fact that the minds eye can only imagine so much that it's never seen before.
Also Auel does a fantastic job of choosing names of the different people and their beliefs because it correlates well with the real world . Like Thonolan and Jondalars people call the great mother goddess 'Doni' and next group of people to the east call her 'Duna'. The brothers are follow the 'Great Mother River' now known as the Danube or the Donau. The direct correlations build believability into the story.
I give this book 8.8/10
The storylines are good but it is a well known fact that I dislike books that split up the plot from one characters perspective to another. Also Ayla raising a cave lion makes it harder to believe simply because regular humans raising regular lions are prone to being attacked by their own beloved pets. Let alone an even bigger creature. I think the story line had the potential to be just as good without him and left the story line more believable, if a little less magical.
That being said though I do love the beautiful juxtaposition of a GIANT cavelion being named 'Baby'.