With her companion, Jondalar, Ayla sets out on her most dangerous and daring journey--away from the welcoming hearth of the Mammoth Hunters, and into the unknown. Their odyssey spans a beautiful but treacherous continent, the windswept grasslands of Ice Age Europe, casting the bold pair among strangers. Some will become friends, intrigued by Ayla's ways of taming wild horses and wolves. Others will become fierce enemies, threatened by what they cannot understand. But always the orphaned Ayla and the wandering Jondalar will heed the voice and vision that urges them on, deeper into the dark and spectacular heart of an unmapped world. For they are driven to reach that place on earth they can call home. Together, they hold their future in their hands.
A reread of this book. I always enjoy this series, and this book is probably my favorite. Ayla and Jondalar have made the decision to leave the Mamutoi and make the trip back to Jondalar's home. Along the way they meet up with several other groups of people, some good and some not.
Ayla is nervous about leaving the Mamutoi, who have adopted her and given her a family of her own. But she loves Jondalar and will go with him despite her qualms. Because she was raised by "flatheads" after her own family died in an earthquake, she frequently faces prejudice from those who don't understand. However, she is always able to win over her detractors by way of her healing skills or personality.
Jondalar started out his Journey with his brother, but ended up with Ayla after a cave lion killed his brother and injured him. While happy to be with Ayla, he is homesick for his own people and convinces Ayla to come with him. After spending several months with the Mamutoi, it is time to move on. Having made the Journey this far, Jondalar knows the way back home and is anxious to get there.
I liked the descriptions of the land and animals that they saw along the way, but my favorite parts were when they encountered other people. The first of these are the Sharamudoi, with whom Jondalar and his brother had stayed before. They arrive to find that the wife of the leader has been hurt and Ayla immediately steps into healer mode to help her. She is successful, of course, which puts her in good graces with the rest of the people. I also enjoyed the reactions to Ayla's wolf and horses. They stay for awhile with the group, who want them to stay, but Jondalar insists that they keep moving.
The next group they encounter are the S'Armunai, with a welcome that is not so pleasant. The leader of the group is a woman who stole the leadership and is mentally unbalanced. Jondalar is captured and is confined with the other men. He does what he can to help the other men while he tries to figure out how to escape and find Ayla. Meanwhile, she has been looking for him, and watches the camp for several days while trying to find the best way to rescue him. How she does so is very dramatic and intense. Of course, she also insists on staying long enough to treat those who have been injured and neglected, before they leave to continue their Journey.
Next up are the Losadunai, who live at the edge of the glacier Jondalar and Ayla must cross to get to his home. Again, they are warmly welcomed and treated well. I enjoyed seeing Ayla getting to know everyone. There is also some drama involving a young girl who was assaulted by some young men. Ayla's empathy helps the girl move past it and embrace her future. As Ayla and Jondalar continue their journey they run into those same young men who have attacked a Clan (flathead) man and woman. After reading them the riot act and sending them on their way, Ayla treats the injured man as they share their fire and a meal. I liked how seeing Ayla with a man of the Clan helped Jondalar understand her a little better.
There is danger as they cross the glacier at the end of the winter. The arrival of spring temperatures can cause dangerous melting, putting them at greater risk of injury or death. After several close calls, they make it off the glacier, to the home cave of some of Jondalar's family. A bit of a romantic tangle is present with a young woman there that adds a bit of angst. Ayla also encounters a man of "mixed spirits" half clan and half Other, who reminds her of her son Durc, left behind in the first book of the series. I really enjoyed their connection and seeing Ayla ease his anger about the way his mother was treated. After a brief period with them, they at last reach Jondalar's home, with a cliffhanger ending as we wait to see how they are welcomed.
I always enjoy seeing Ayla win over new people, and this book was no exception. I also loved seeing reactions to the animals, especially Wolf. I especially loved his part in the rescue of Jondalar from the S'Armunai. It is also really sweet to see Wolf with the various children.
This was not my first reread of this book and it won't be the last.