The book contains two plotlines. One line followes Ayla as she starts a solitary life in a Valley with animals. The other line follows two young men, Jondalar and Thonolan, as they take a big journey following the Great Mother River to the far east.
The book starts off from the events at end of The Clan of the Cave Bear. The protagonist, a young woman named Ayla (clearly one of The Others, aka Cro-Magnon) must face life after being exiled from the band of Neanderthals, known as the Clan, who had raised her from early childhood. The book follows the journey Ayla makes to find her own people, whom the Clan refer to as "the Others". It also follows the parallel travels of a new character, Cro-Magnon Jondalar of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, accompanying his half-brother Thonolan on a great Journey to walk the entire length of the "Great Mother River" (Danube).
Ayla, alone and ritually ostracized from the only people she has ever known, travels alone for half a year until finding the Valley, and eventually establishes a comfortable but lonely life there, keeping productive for several years to stave off her lack of company. In her desire for companionship she domesticates the foal of a horse she hunted, naming the filly Whinney and, in time, discovering how to ride her. Emboldened by this success, she takes in and treats an injured cave lion cub, whom she names Baby. During the mating season, both of these depart, Baby to find a lioness and Whinney to find a stallion, with whom she conceives a foal.
Meanwhile, Jondalar and Thonolan travel east along the Great Mother River, making friends and facing dangers. The Journey was Thonolan's idea originally; Jondalar decided to accompany him partially to fulfill his dreams of travel, and partially to leave his fiancée, the beautiful-but-shrewish Marona, at the altar. Jondalar, who complements magnetic handsomeness with a quiet, brooding demeanor and supreme skills at pillow play, is often the recipient of female attention along the Journey, though Thonolan, with his candid nature and laughing eyes, is frequently able to charm the most lovely of the women around him. One of these, Jetamio of the Sharamudoi, becomes his mate, while Jondalar attempts to settle down with a woman named Serenio but fails to because of his confusing inability to fall in love. Thonolan's story ends in tragedy, however, when Jetamio dies trying to birth their firstborn child. Thonolan, the original impetus of their Journey, resumes his travels, intent on finding either the end of the river or death, while a worried Jondalar trails after him.
Jondalar and Ayla meet when Thonolan attempts to hunt a wild deer but is relieved of his kill by a cave lioness. Reckless with grief, he and Jondalar pursue the lioness to her den, where her mate attacks them; the screams alert Ayla, who is able to rescue them when that mate turns out to be none other than Baby. Though Thonolan has already been killed, Jondalar is still alive, if gravely wounded, and Ayla saves the first member of the Others she has ever known.
The remaining chapters of the novel are essentially a love story, as Ayla and Jondalar learn to communicate, get to know each other, overcome the many culture clashes resulting from their differing upbringings, and fall in love. Ayla's language skills take a progressive leap after she uncovers a repressed memory about the earthquake that killed her parents; thereafter Jondalar is able to clear up many of the mysteries of her background. However, this creates its own set of crises when he learns who raised her—and, furthermore, about the "child of mixed spirits" she left behind—and must fight the prejudices of his culture and upbringing to accept her for who she is. He also administers her First Rites after coming to understand her unusual circumstances. Despite all obstacles, the two fall in love, and decide to leave the Valley of Horses and strike out for civilization. The story ends with Ayla and Jondalar meeting a group known as Mammoth Hunters.
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Goodreads gives the book a 3.94 out of 5, based on 39,322 ratings.
- ↑ Goodreads.com, The Valley of Horses (Earth's Children #2). Link. Information retrieved at 2014-02-04.