Originally published 1980, most recent edition published December 2010, Hodder and Stoughton
512 pages, Paperback
Ice Age life, hunting, clan politics, clan life, dangers from wild beasts, some violence, adult relations (one scene of rape (sort of...see review for more info), being an outsider, being loved, tragedy, loss, grief, social status, love, medicine women, religion
Summary from Hodder and Stoughton
Leave 21st century London and go back to Ice Age Europe. Follow Ayla, a Cro-Magnon child who loses her parents in an earthquake and is adopted by a tribe of Neanderthal, the Clan. See how the Clan's wary suspicion is gradually transformed into acceptance of this girl, so different from them, under the guidance of its medicine woman Iza and its wise holy man Creb. Immerse yourself in a world dictated by the demands of survival in a hostile environment, and be swept away in an epic tale of love, identity and struggle.
I remember when I first read this book. I got it when I was at university, there was a special offer going on so I got the whole set. Unfortunately I'm now convinced that I never finished the book (I don't have them any more). I think I got to a part I didn't like, and I gave up. I was glad of the opportunity to re-read it, because it is awesome! Jean has so much knowledge about the Ice Age, which shines through in the details of what life was like for Ayla and her clan. I confess to skim reading a few paragraphs which were just about the wildlife around the clan. They aren't details I'd remember and I was more interested in finding out what happened next to Ayla.
Ayla's life is pretty tough. She was orphaned at a really young age, but somehow she finds the strength to survive the immediate dangers after the earthquake. When she is found by the clan, she is in a bad way. Nursed back to health she becomes a daughter to Iza, with Creb trying to teach her the ways of the clan. Not only does she look different, but she acts differently. She doesn't understand all of the clan rules. The clan rely on genetic memory to guide them through life - with a few nudges they can recall anything from their ancestors' past. Ayla doesn't have that advantage, nor can she have it. It means she endures some hardship, but she is a quick learner and when she eventually understands the way the clan speak to each other, she works extra hard to prove that she can be a useful member to society.
Sadly Ayla manages to make one major enemy within the clan, an enemy who carries on with the grudge throughout the novel. It was fun watching Ayla grow up and become a member of the clan. She thinks quite differently because she is a different race of human to them. She is highly intelligent and always questioning things. This gets her into trouble, and even results in exile. Broud, the one who hates her, does all he can to make her life miserable. Ayla finds a way to ignore him, which makes him even angrier. He finally gets his revenge, which results in Ayla having a baby.
The reason I mention that now, is because of the note in the themes looked at in the book. There are a few mentions about adult relations. Back then people didn't live very long. I think mid twenties was considered very old. Children developed into adults young too - around 8 years old. Adult relations were a necessary part of life to increase the clan population, a necessity after the earthquake. There was no secrecy to any part of life. It was common for children to view adult relations. Children even imitated the act. This is a strange concept to grasp now, but for them it was normal. Although marriage existed, it wasn't necessary for adult relations. Any man could demand relations with any woman, and the women would have to obey. This is what Broud does to Ayla. It was horrible reading it, because he uses her and abuses her. Her baby becomes both her joy and her sorrow.
Ayla is cared for by Creb and Iza who almost always stand by her. There are various strange punishments given to Ayla, which she doesn't understand but has to obey. She's a survivor, and grows stronger both physically and mentally. There are a few points when she is broken, but she manages to keep going. The others in the clan aren't always so friendly, only when she receives a higher status do some of them get close to her. Not that it matters in the end, for nothing could help her then.
I'll be reading summaries online so I'm all ready to read the latest book (I've managed to be put down for an early copy). You'll have to wait until the end of the month to read that review though. In the mean time you can enter the competition to win one of 5 copies of the first book (this one).
A must read book for anyone who enjoys reading about strong characters. Ayla faces numerous challenges in her life, but has an inner strength which pushes her on through the tough times. She is a joy to read about.
Between Two Seas by Marie-Louise Jensen, Children's, a tale of another strong girl who has to battle life on her own.
Warrior Daughter by Janet Paisley, Historical, follows the life of a girl in the Iron Age, who faces difficulties on a similar level to Ayla's.