Book Review: Dolphin Way

Fictional work imagines societal undersea world

Author: Pat
4th February 2012

Imagine a world where dolphins have developed a culture and civilisation of their own.

Actually you don’t have to, as the newly published novel by Mark Caney, ‘Dolphin Way – Rise Of the Guardians’ does just that. Caney’s debut is the latest in a long line of anthropomorphic fables written with a creature’s perspective on the world. Where ‘Watership Down’ parodied Nazism and ‘Animal Farm’ Communism, Dolphin Way tackles head on the thorny themes of change and environmental damage.

Caney may be new to publishing but as the head of PADI UK and with a lifetime of experience as a sailor and diver, writing about the sea is clearly well within his comfort zone. No stranger he to dolphin encounters – something almost universally loved by most humans – Mark admitted that one particularly memorable few hours spent in the company of dolphins inspired him to put pen to paper.

tackles head on the thorny themes of change and environmental damage

At a time when more pressure than ever is being applied to the seas from human pollution, fishing and generally treating our planet with utter contempt, this novel is certainly timely. Set in the world of ‘Ocean’, as known by the animals themselves, Dolphin Way questions human effects on this intelligent species via one young animal’s odyssey and coming-of-age.

Themes used to describe the cetaceous hero, his friends and their environs are borrowed extensively from Eastern Mysticism, Native American culture and New Age Religion.

At the centre of the story is a young male dolphin called Touches The Sky, better known as Sky to his friends. Together with best friend Muddy River Mouth (‘Muddy’), the two zetii (dolphins) are Ka-Tse, or of the Bottlenose variety. Later in the book we meet other clans (pods) and species of porpoises, whales and even sharks – or ‘Cleaners’ as they are known, for fairly obvious reasons.

How intelligent are dolphins exactly? No-one knows, although Mark explained that using the ‘encephalization quotient’ – or brain size to body mass rating – dolphins are second only to humans on Earth. (The stats are even more skewed when you consider how much blubber they need to carry around to keep warm.) Whatever the truth, dolphins can communicate with each other and engage in play, group behaviour and so on, meaning the idea of an advanced culture beneath the waves may not be completely fanciful.

In Dolphin Way, Sky and Muddy discover the body of a young female, seemingly murdered by other dolphins. From this beginning is introduced The Way, an ancient code of conduct passed down by dolphins to follow in order to live in perfect harmony with the environment. Crucially, The Way forbids the killing of animals for any purpose other than food. However, in light of dwindling fish stocks some clan members have begun to question this passive stance, instead forming a death squad known as The Guardians. These dolphin extremists have sworn to bettering their lot by whatever means necessary in a world where food is scarce and life has become dog-eat-dog, to use a mixed metaphor.

We are treated to chases, romance, humour, adventure and self-discovery, all underscored by passable explanations for dolphin belief systems and culture, particularly given the animals’ commitment to respecting nature. Caney’s narrative follows a conventional structure, so the characters you’d expect are all present and correct: the naïve young man, the love interest, the wise old sage, the double-crosser and the villain. But the book is none the poorer for it and once you have suspended disbelief, the idea of talking dolphins starts to seem almost credible. Far less ridiculous than talking rabbits or farmyard animals, in any event.

The author is an accomplished diver himself and it shows; readers will shudder at an entrapment scene inside a shipwreck, and many passages describing light through water, reefs, shallows and fish shoals should bring back memories of that diving holiday in the Red Sea.

‘Dolphin Way – Rise of The Guardians’ has successfully brought a second Earthly civilisation to life in a captivating fashion. And with its dark heart and troubling themes, the dolphin struggle to balance power with responsibility is a lesson to us all.



Available from major retailers, ‘Dolphin Way – Rise Of The Guardians’ by Mark Caney is published by Aquapress.

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