Somehow I missed this series in my misspent youth. I don't know why I never picked them up: I remember seeing them, and they had the lush barbaric distorted romantic grotesque covers that made them look exactly like Tanith Lee. Much truer advertising than the respectable black-clad hardcover of the edition I just read. Like The Birthgrave, this is a fantastical female picaresque whose heroine is stubbornly passive and relentlessly desirable -- adventure, like sex, happens to her despite herself, which may be the most enjoyable perversion the book offers.
This book is narrated not by the heroine, but by her daughter, Seka, at a remove from adulthood; Seka is about five or six at the time of the events she relates, and seems a lot more self-possessed and alert than her hapless mother, who is often in the throes of passion, her own or someone else's. Seka doesn't mind when the passion is sex, but it's bad for both of them when it's martyrdom. She is very protective of her mother, who clearly cares deeply for her children, but can't take care of herself.
The book is extremely and oddly sexually explicit -- child Seka masturbates, is perhaps too observant and understanding of her mother's desires (although I am fond of the point where she observes her parents in coitus and details her father's nonhuman prick), is molested by a trusted adult and seems to take nothing but pleasure in it (that I am not fond of at all). There's also off-screen bestiality or xeno -- Cija's last pre-book liason was with a great ape, by whom she's pregnant; plenty of sexual violence, including medical, also consensual sibling incest.
I guess this is supposed to take place in the fantastical prehistoric past, but it has so little relationship to actual history it might as well be postapocalyptic.
The bizarre spiritualist ending makes no literary sense at all. It reads like Gaskell got that old-time Swedenbourgian religion and had to preach the word.
Bechdelpass because Cija and her mother are sometimes alone together (though surprisingly few times, really), but it still feels off since the entire book is about Cija's sexual relationships with men. Very heterosexual book, and a particular view of heterosexuality too.