I don’t usually admit this to anyone, but I’m an Ayla addict. Ayla is the main character of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series. The fifth book, Shelters of Stone, was released today and it is already number one at amazon.com and Barnes and Nobles.

The series chronicles the adventures of Ayla, an orphaned Cro-Magnon girl raised by a Neanderthal clan. I enjoy the characters, the intercultural misunderstandings, and the descriptions of primitive cultures. The first book, The Clan of the Cave Bear, moved along at a nice pace; stylistically the writing neither stands out nor detracts from the story. But subsequent books read as if they had been dictated straight to print with no editing and no rewriting.

Even though the writing is sometimes bad to the point of embarrassing, Ayla is a character that I can root for. She is of two worlds and so fits into neither. She tries her best. And though Ayla (like Nancy Drew) is always the smartest, most beautiful, and most gifted woman around, she is never arrogant or mean. I just never get tired of her adventures: domesticating horses and dogs, discovering matches, inventing the needle. I read these books whenever I’m tired or depressed or don’t want to think too much about what I’m reading.

Sort of like the Harry Potter series, the first four books came out every couple of years in the 1980s and then stopped in 1990 with he fourth book, The Plains of Passage. We’ve waited for twelve years to find out what happens next. (Ayla had just reached the home of her Cro-Magnon hunk, Jondalar. Will they accept her? Turn her away? And what about his ex?) Every year people hoped the next book would be released for Christmas. At one point, rumors circulated on the Internet that Jean Auel had died. Then last fall, the announcement came: the new book, The Shelters of Stone, would be released today.

Enough anticipation. I’ve waited twelve years for this. I’m off to buy my copy.

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