It is entirely possible that The Land of Painted Caves is the worst book I've ever read. I'm trying to think of a worse one and I can't. I went through all the books I've ever read in Goodreads--nothing worse. Even the ones I didn't finish--nope.
Nothing happens in this book. People go on long trips to look at painted caves. Let's look at some passages that illustrate my points.
1) The descriptions.
They reached the lower end of the second loop [of the river], then followed the river only until it headed north again. The forking paths at the bottom of this loop, one toward the east and the other heading north, were more equally worn; it was the north end of the second loop that was opposite the mouth of The River, the place where it flowed into Big River, and that northern path was used as often as the other. Going east across the land, they reached the river again, then followed the trail beside it in a southeast direction. The volume of water in Big River was considerably less before the place where the water of The River entered the larger stream. It was there that they decided to camp for the night."
Now, I suppose it's not inherently awful. There's a lot of description that I can't quite picture--which way the river loops and where the heck they're walking. But the thing to remember is that this is one paragraph in a two page description of this walk.
2) The repetition.
Levela walked up to Ayla and Wolf. "I think they are getting ready to tell the next story," she said. "Are you staying to hear it?"Okay, here's my version of the passage. "Feeling somewhat tired, the women decided to see if there was any good food left, then wander back to camp. Jondalar and Jondecam decided to come along, and the four left the storytellers' camp, promising to return later in the Meeting to hear more stories." Not poetry, but God help us, it's SHORT and CONTAINS ALL THE SAME INFORMATION.
"I don't think so," Ayla said. "Jondalar may want to stay. I'll ask him, but I think I'll come back another time to listen to stories. Are you staying?"
"I thought I might see if there is anything good left ot eat. I'm getting a little hungry, but I'm tired, too. I may go back to our camp soon," Levela said.
"I'll go with you to get something to eat. Then I have to pick up Jonayla from your sister." Ayla took a few steps to where Jondalar and the others were talking, and waited until there was a break in the conversation. [nb. She didn't rudely interrupt. Thanks for pointing that out, Jean!] "Are you going to stay to hear the next story?" she asked.
"What do you want to do?"
"I'm getting tired and so is Levela. We thought we'd go and see if there is anything good left to eat," Ayla said.
"That sounds fine to me. We can come back another time and listen to more stories. [In case you were worried they wouldn't hear more stories!] Is Jondecam coming? [Let's go run this full decision past someone else!]" Jondalar said. [nb. he said, she said, Ayla said, Jondalar said. Invariably.]
"Yes, I am." They heard his voice coming toward them. "Wherever you are going." [Thank you, Jondecam, for not making them explain this again.]
The four of them left the storytellers' camp and headed for the area where the food had been gathered together. [In case you weren't following their plans.]
And all the caves in the Land of Painted Caves are the same.
3) The lack of occurrence. I don't have a quote for this, because you can't quote things that don't happen. But things keep almost happening, reminding me of what it's like when things really do happen in a story. There are a few injuries--none of which are to anyone we care about, and none of which any of our famed healers can do anything about. Of course, there were a lot of fatal injuries in prehistory. But having a character who's a doctor is not that interesting unless they can actually occasionally do something.
Because of all the travel, we don't really get to know anyone, so even when something does happen, it's to someone you just met, who you'll leave behind in a few (dozen) pages. When someone tries to hunt their horses, they don't have to convince them that they're not from the spirit world; they just have to say, hey, don't hunt our horses. Oh, sorry! Everything's cool again. It's the same bag of tricks, but when you're not meeting anyone new or coming up with any new ideas, there's just nothing to show me.
Even the cave paintings, which are mysterious to us, aren't viewed with any imagination. Every time they see them, someone asks, "Why did they paint this like that?" and the answer is, "Nobody knows. They were painted by the Ancients." Cop out! What's the point of writing about cave people and cave paintings if the cave people don't paint--or even understand--the cave paintings?
You know, I thought I was going to write a well-organized post about my problems here, but really I'm just ranting. So here's the rant: I really believe this is the worst book I can remember reading, ever.
I'm so, so sorry.