Rating: Okay (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
The Animal Wife isn't so much a sequel to Reindeer Moon (the last book I read, reviewed here), it's a companion book. It's set in the same place and deals with the same group of people. The only difference is that it's set a couple years later and that it's told from a boy's POV instead of a girl's.
Turns out the gender of the character makes a big, big difference in how much I enjoyed the story. Set in prehistoric times (Siberia, roughly 20,000 years ago), of course women had few to no rights -- they (and their children) were owned by their husbands. That story told from a woman's point of view let us see how hard that was, how unfair and challenging a woman's life was. That story told from a male point of view was just unpleasant. The boy/young man went on endlessly about how useless women were (because they couldn't hunt, because they were concerned with "silly" and "pointless" things, because they talked and chatted too much). Yet in the first book we had learned just how not-pointless or silly those things were! So after learning how hard and unfair their lives were, in the next book we had to experience page after page of the boy looking down at them/insulting them/treating them poorly. While it was perfectly in character for the boy to think and act that way, it was not at all enjoyable to read about.
New in this book, the tribe caught a slave -- someone of a different tribe who couldn't understand their language, thus was considered to be Not A Person. This slave woman was from a people who were more advanced than the tribe, which made her conditions seem even worse. Held captive, made to do the worst work, barely given enough food, raped, and got pregnant and had her rapist's baby, etc.
While those elements were big, big things that I did not enjoy, most of the things I liked from the first book still held true for this second one. That this author was a scientist and an naturalist came shining through, as did all the research she had done. I loved the world they lived in (though it wasn't new, since we learned all about it in the first book, so my enjoyment was a little less).
I really enjoyed Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's writing style as well. While I didn't like the characters much this time, I believed them all as people. More than that, she wrote their limitations so well -- the foreign tribe, the one the slave came from, used bows. The tribe the story was set in used nothing but spears, had never seen a bow before, and their lack of understanding at how it would work was so believable. (They never saw one in use, just arrows killing someone and a broken bow.)
The Animal Wife was hard to rate on my hated-loved scale. I both disliked it a lot and enjoyed it. I settled on okay as a compromise.
Sometimes, once I'm done writing my own review of a book, I like to google and see the reviews others have written. This one said it up really well:
But it wasn't nearly as magical as Reindeer Moon, and at the end of the book I was left thinking: what a desolate story. ... She [slave woman] was seen as an animal because her captors in ignorance treated her as one, assumed she was stupid because she could not speak their language or understand their customs. It was really very sad. I was pleased at first to see the reappearance of the tamed-wolf theme, but it did not end well even for the poor wolf. Everyone was left with less in the end.
"Everyone was left with less in the end" sums this book up. Even the characters who got out of a bad situation (a number of them did, surprisingly) were still in a bad place -- worse than they were in at the start of the story. It was a bleak, desolate story... yet I not just finished the book, I read it fast. I enjoyed it more than I didn't enjoy it (how's that for a ringing endorsement?).