Orphaned by an earthquake at the age of five, Ayla is left without family or people. Until she is adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthal. Ayla inspires first surprise, then wariness and finally acceptance by the Clan. She is cared for by its medicine woman Iza and its wise holy man Creb. Only their future leader, Broud, is not willing to accept this strange woman. Consumed with hatred, he does all he can to destroy her. But Ayla bears the marks and the spirit of her totem, the Cave Lion. She is a survivor.
This book is the first in a series, to which I strongly suspect I am hooked. (How convenient I was looking for a new series to become engrossed it, being up to date with all my the series I’m currently reading). The series follows Ayla a bright, engaging girl who must fight to survive in a challenging and often hostile world. In this the first book she loses her family aged 5 in an earthquake and is taken in by another group, in this case Neanderthals. In many respects it is a story we have heard before. Human child loses family and is left unprotected only to be rescued by another group. Jungle Book for instance instantly springs to mind.
I read a lot of historical fiction but I think it’s safe to say I have never read one set during the Stone Age. It is not a period I’m particularly familiar with. I remember covering it briefly in history as a child but it was quickly passed over in favour of the later periods of which we know more and of which there is more evidence in Ireland. My first thoughts when I began reading this was to wonder how accurate was it. We of course have some idea how people lived, what they ate and the tools they used. But to what degree can we now how they communicated or how their society was structured. I was amazed to discover that much within the book is fact in fact true, or at least was considered true when it was published over 30 years (some things have since been disproved through more recent discoveries). The degree of research is evident throughout. Detailed descriptions are often provided about how something was done. While this was interesting I do have a gripe with it. At times I felt these explanations became too technical and interfered with the flow of the story and I often found myself skimming over these sections. A notes section explaining may have been more beneficial and less disruptive to the story.
This is my only real compliant however. Overall I really enjoyed it. Ayla is an engaging and likeable lead character. It may not be world class literature, but it certainly addictive and engrossing. Perfect escapism.