Dolphin Way: Rise of the Guardians

Book Review by Alexie Frize-Williams

dolphin wayIf you ever see a close-up shot of a dolphin, one of the most striking things about it is the huge, permanent grin spread wide across his face. But have you ever stopped to wonder what the creature might have to smile about? What secrets lie behind the intelligent eyes of the animal about which we still know so little? In this beautiful subaquatic tale, Mark Caney provides a glimpse at life through the eyes of the other major civilized race we share the planet with – the dolphins. Aptly blurring fact and the fantastic, the novel is rooted in the author’s intricate research of dolphin behavior, whilst conveying a powerful narrative which masterfully explores some profound questions.

Touches the Sky is a young male dolphin who finds himself caught up in the destructive consequences of man’s impact on his once utopian world. For millennia the dolphins have peaceably thrived in a sophisticated, harmonious existence, following the Way: an ancient belief system, somewhere between a religion and a philosophy. With a complex communication system, playfulness to rival that of humans and unobtrusive intelligence, they have grown perfectly attuned to their world, without the need to improve it, or destroy one another. Now there are alarming developments in the familiar waters, with the confusing din of deafening machinery, brutal over-fishing resulting in food shortages, strange cancers, and many baby dolphins stillborn due to pollution. The darker side of human nature begins to take seed in the receptive dolphin psyche, and a small faction renounces the Way to pursue a savage new lifestyle. Sky must desperately try to avert the disturbing new threat if he is to protect the ancient code and those he loves.

Though the pervasive themes are sombre, the plot is vibrant and fast-paced, snaking in the impressive twists and turns of a beautifully crafted adventure story. The reader is immersed in a stunning underwater world with eloquent scenic descriptions opening the reader’s eyes to a vast and vivid variety of undersea creatures, water temperaments and ocean-scapes. To be enjoyed by readers both young and old alike, the novel may be read simply as an exciting, escapist tale, with three-dimensional characters, touches of humour and beautiful snatches of poetry. But for a deeper reading, the fictive layers can be peeled back to reveal many philosophical, social and moral questions which will leave the reader thinking long after turning the last page. If dolphins are as intelligent as man is gradually learning to realize, what are they using all this intelligence for? (Is there a master agenda?) In evolutionary terms, where did ‘original sin’ arise, and why has it not affected another, so highly developed, species? What causes the fork in the evolutionary pathway which allows or denies a species to be capable of sophisticated communication, emotion, sociability and pleasure?

The most poignant theme of the novel is clearly the shocking, but entirely realistic, devastation to the ocean environment. Human influences on the planet seem to be slowly destroying any hope for posterity, whilst the dolphin Way hinges on the safeguarding of the future through learning from the past. Caney paints a stark picture of human egocentricity and materialism versus the balanced altruism and sustainability of the gentle dolphins. The dolphins eat only what they need to stay alive, to maintain the complex balance of life in the ocean. By training their minds and bodies they can hold their breaths for longer, dive deeper, and explore different levels of consciousness and the subconscious. This existential introspection enables the possibility of approaching a sense of unity with the universal, one of the fundamental tenets of the Way. It also provides an elegant solution to the creatures’ lack of instruments or material objects to record information; a special order of dolphins known as the Starwriters can train their minds to recall vast quantities of information subliminally. Here the author’s creative flair takes wing, and an entire system of societal roles within the dolphin clan is laid out; from Dreamweavers to Calculators, the different gifts of certain zetii (as the dolphins are known) work together to ensure the continuance through each generation, of the creatures’ age old wisdom. One of the most fascinating aspects of this world is that many of the ideas stem from scientific theory, touching upon the realms of astrology, oceanology, biology and medicine.

So if you get the chance to read one novel this year, make it Dolphin Way. Aside from enjoying the vivid brilliance of the underwater world, you might learn something along the way. After all, if we concentrated less on materialistic concerns, the desire to manipulate the environment and cultivate wealth, there would surely be more time for pleasure and to simply enjoy life! Perhaps this is why the dolphins smile – man is caught up in his obstinately self-destructive pursuit of happiness; the dolphins are already there.