Have I regaled you with me extended opinion of the Clan of the Cave Bear series yet? No? Well, let's fix that up right now!
Book 1: Clan of the Cave Bear: Superlative. Historical fiction full of detail and life, about survival and culture. Loved it.
Book 2: The Valley of Horses: Excellent. Suffered a little from switching back and forth between two main characters, one of whom we're already invested in, one of whom we don't know at all. But once the stories come together, you want to go back and reread the Jondalar parts. (Though they're still not as good as the Ayla parts.) Great book, again, all about survival.
Book 3: The Mammoth Hunters: Very, very good. The personal stories start getting a little heavy-handed, but the cultural details are still fabulous.
Book 4: The Plains of Passage: Totally readable. I mean, you need to skim the six page descriptions of grasslands, and the sex scenes get a little repetitive, but it's a decent book. Full of action. A divergence, but on its own terms, fine.
Book 5: The Shelters of Stone: Oh, ugh. I know that not everyone will agree with me, but I really didn't like this book. It repeated not only things we knew from previous books, but even "revelations" that took place within this book are supposed to be startling to characters the second and third time they're exposed to them. The interpersonal drama is bland and unmemorable, and the cultural stuff is cheap and more like fanfic than the great work I expect after the first two books.
You see the evolution here. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older as I read these, but I doubt it; the first few I reread often; book 4 I go back and reread select parts. Book 5 I haven't opened since I finished it the first time around.
I feel for the author, too--it takes her about 10 years to write one of these. And that means we, the fans, have been waiting for eons. I worry that it also means that the editors are going to rush her through the revision process and not give it the work it needs, but I'll take what they give me.
Because, ladies and gentlemen--drumroll, please--The Land of Painted Caves is coming out! Yes, that's right, those of us who have been waiting anxiously, googling Jean Auel every couple of months and reading the same tired rumors on the geocities fansites can now relax, because the authority of the publisher and Amazon are behind the promise of only NINE months till P-Day! (Publication day, that is.)
So, do I have a lot of hope? Sadly, no. I figure it'll be about what Shelters of Stone was. But I love the characters and the world enough that I'm thrilled to spend some more time there, even if it's a cut-rate bus tour, not the luxury cruise I was dreaming of.
I just lent the first book to Brenda, since she's been interested in edible plants lately. The book is a veritable Field Guide to Useful Plants in the Prehistoric Steppes. Sigh; now I want to read it again!