Picks and Pans Review: Pillar of the Sky

updated 07/15/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/15/1985 01:00AM

by Cecelia Holland

The author has been writing historical novels—14 so far—since 1966, and she has many devoted fans. Pillar of the Sky was inspired by Stonehenge and takes place as that strange, puzzling arrangement of prehistoric giant stones is built. Her hero in this primitive world is an outcast named Moloquin, a child who lives by his wits on the fringe of a settlement. The author imagines a society ruled by a man selected by the women, where the women have the real power. The tribe's ruler intends to pass the job along to his son, but then evil strikes. While Holland has natural explanations for the supernatural events that take place, for more than 500 pages the book's emphasis is on action. The author is not only a first-class storyteller, but she makes her preliterate characters far more than cartoon figures. When drought comes, the hero remarks, "Do you never wonder about the world—why it is as it is? Once it must have been perfect—no one hungered, no one suffered—you can see the perfection still in the pieces of it. Yet now see how it lies in ruins around us! Everywhere, people strive and die, suffer and die, and there is no justice, no order...." Holland convinces the reader that only someone obsessed with building a gateway to the heavens could have created something as incredible as Stonehenge. Jean Auel's novels about early man (Clan of the Cave Bear and Valley of the Horses) ate big best-sellers, but Holland is a much, much better writer. (Knopf, $17.95)

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