Dolphin Way: Rise of the Guardians by Mark Caney

(7.5/10) Dolphin Way was clearly written with a lot of heart and ambition.

Dolphin culture evolved over millions of years so they could remain perfectly attuned with their world, Ocean. Unlike man, they have created an almost utopian society without feeling the need to manipulate their environment, collect possessions or wage war. But the growing pressure of man's activities become intolerable and in frustration one faction seeks an aggressive new path, making a shocking departure from The Way - the ancient philosophy that has guided them so well through the millennia. Sky, a male dolphin close to becoming an Initiate in The Way, unwillingly finds himself caught up in the violent consequences. To save the lives of his closest friends he will have to risk the worst punishment his clan can inflict and must decide between the two females who challenge everything he believes in.

Dolphin Way begins with the mysterious death of Born Into Summer, a young friend of the book’s protagonist, Touches The Sky. It expands into a conflict between The Way, a quixotic code of conduct that has kept dolphins eco-friendly pacifists for millennia, and the rapid toxification of the ocean that is pushing it towards obsolescence. Touches The Sky’s natural habitat is becoming a more violent and competitive place, and throughout his adventures Sky makes discovery after discovery leading him to believe that this is all thanks to those destructive, wasteful humans up above.

When I first read the synopsis for Dolphin Way I was reminded of another book, namely The Call of the Wild. As I made my way through the text however, I found it to be more like James Cameron’s Avatar than anything Jack London ever wrote. This novel isn’t about anthropomorphizing an animal. It is about a broader set of issues and constructs, like life cycles, conservation and environmental degradation. Dolphin culture, with all of its designations like “starwriters,” and “calculators” is portrayed with painstaking detail. Roger Ebert might compliment the author, Mark Caney on his “worldbuilding” abilities, but it does make one wonder how much of the sophisticated society portrayed in the book is fantasy, how much is hearsay and how much is scientifically accurate, especially since the author himself clearly has an encyclopedic understanding of biology. This attention to scientific detail quickly becomes the novel’s strongest element, even when it sort of ‘sexualizes the sea life.’ No, the reader didn’t really need to know about that “smooth, sweet belly” that Moon Over Antares apparently has, but it works within the context of Dolphin Way.

As silly and sentimental as it sounds, Dolphin Way was clearly written with a lot of heart and ambition. Caney is clearly enthusiastic about his book’s subject matter. Unsurprisingly so, since Caney is a sailor, world traveler and dive instructor (sometimes) to Arab Sheiks. One can’t help but think that an autobiography from Caney might be more interesting than a novel, but if that’s a possibility at all it’s on the back burner. Touches The Sky’s Odyssey will continue in Dolphin Way Part Two: Captured.

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