This 1973 novel for ages 10-14 explores early civilization by telling the story of two tribes. One is a very primitive hunting tribe and the other is a more civilized stone age tribe.
The main characters are a teenage boy named Dom and a teenage girl named Va. Dom is the son of the chief of the hunter tribe. He has just reached the age where he can join the men in the hunts. Va comes from the matriarchal tribe in the village .
Due to a changing climate, the hunters must migrate further south. As they go they meet up with men who are pasturing cattle. The hunters are very violent and anyone not in their tribe is considered an enemy that should be killed, so they attack the men. They don’t understand why the animals are staying with the men because they only know about wild animals. They are savages with only rudimentary social rules.
After this they discover a village that has a wall built with branches and inside are huts. The hunters don’t understand any of it. They only know that they want to get inside and kill the people and take animals and women. They try to get through the wall but it’s not possible, so they try yelling insults at the villagers. Eventually they retreat.
The hunters move every day to a new sleeping place where they make beds of grass. The men hunt daily and they eat the meat raw. They don’t know about fire or cooking.
In the village they grow food, weave cloth, cooking over a fire with dishes made of stone and clay, and use rocks as weapons to throw at the hunters. They are not as strong as the hunters, but they are smarter.
Va is a girl who likes to go out to the woods where she swims in a pond and communes with the animals. One day Dom discovers her there. He has been left behind by the hunters because he has an infected wound in his leg. She helps him with the infections.
They learn to communicate somewhat but he is still a savage and ends up killing a squirrel (proudly), so she runs away. They develop a strong interest in each other, but the boy has to go back to the tribe.
The boy comes up with a plan to roll a large boulder down a hill to crash through the village wall so the tribe can get in. He is excited because he wants to see the girl. After much digging, their plan succeeds and they go in and kill all the men and cattle.
After joining in the slaughter, Dom finds Va, thinking she will be happy to see him. But she is horrified and traumatized. He tells his father, the chief, that this is going to be his woman. The father laughs at him and says, no, she will be mine. Dom argues and his father knocks him out. The girl is put in a hut with other girls.
Dom finds her and even though she hates him for killing her family, she goes with him because she knows she will not be able to stay there with the hunters. They escape from the village together after a chase.
Dom, being a savage, doesn’t understand gentleness. His idea of a relationship is that the man should beat the woman to show his dominance, which he does to Va. She tries to run away so he ties a rope around her neck, all the while not knowing why she is mad at him.
They continue traveling south to evade the hunters and end up spending the winter in a cave. Dom stops hitting her, but Va still hates him. He wants her to be happy, but nothing he does will make her smile or sing like she used to.
Later they find a lake where they build a hut and Va announces that she is pregnant. (No sex scene.) A baby boy is born and Dom is very happy, but Va still hates the sight of him and is glad when he’s gone off hunting. She devises a net for fishing and decides she doesn’t need him anymore to survive.
But one day while Va is away from the hut, some hunters almost kill her. Dom saves her life. After this she finally forgives him for all the past. The story ends with the narrator saying that they had more children and were the founders of a town that was eventually built there.
Like all the books I’ve read by John Christopher, the storytelling was excellent. I admit that I really don’t know much about prehistorical times, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the events. But I liked how he described the clash of two cultures. I feel like this concept could help explain a lot of the discord in today’s world.
People will live the way they are raised unless something comes along to alter their path. Unfortunately the thing that often comes along is ‘progress’ that steals the land and kills the inhabitants. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part, those with the better weapons usually prevail.
In prehistoric times, it was probably a pretty close fight at first. The hunters used large animal bones as clubs and were quite vicious. The villagers used stone knives and spears and eventually other weapons to protect themselves from the more violent tribes. They had to not only fight each other to survive, but nature itself. The story made me think of how the Native Americans and early settlers would fight and kill each other. It was a good book and I would recommend it for ages 12 and up.