Touches The Sky is a young, male dolphin living within a clan which follows the teachings of the Way, passed down through generations. He is an outsider, rescued by humans when his family were beached but he is loyal to his elders. As he trains as a Novice, those around him start to ask questions about a mysterious group of rebels known as the Guardians.

I feel a bit ambiguous about Dolphin Way. The very first page is a moving account of a beached dolphin and our main character witnessing a slow and distressing death of a friend. There are little passages that describe the underwater world with an obvious passion and charming detail. I loved the fable of how the hermit crab and the sea urchin and how they came to be and when One Eye tries to explain the concept of ownership to Sky.

Yet the dialogue ruined it for me. Sky sounded like a child, with no nuances of speech and an excessive amount of exclamation marks. I understand he was meant to be a younger dolphin but from the story he should have been an adolescent at least. The older dolphins had far too formal speech with the exception of One Eye, who was the only character I really liked. The dolphins also had the habit of stating the obvious and repeating themselves.

  “And to follow the Way? Can’t you come up with anything of your own? It’s like you’re always quoting from a lesson.”
  “What’s wrong with that? So, they are the kind of things our teacher would have said – old wisdom – but why should that make them wrong?”
  Dusk was exasperated. This was exactly what drove her crazy about him.

I quite agree with Dusk and by that point more than half the book had passed with Sky repeatedly stating that so and so wasn’t the Way. I think the point that humans are polluting the planet can be told in a more subtle way than having your characters mention it over and over again. When they watch the sharks being caught for their fins, and the horror of seeing one thrown back alive but without its fins, it’s self explanatory without the dolphins explaining it to the reader in simplified terms.

I’m not sold on the dolphin concept of organised religion either, which is really what the Way is. It seems far too human a thing to me and dolphins don’t seem particularly benevolent creatures. I have watched enough documentaries to believe in the things that the Guardians do but not to set quotas and expect other species to comply. The ocean’s a big place after all.

The last 80 or so pages picked up the pace and I wish the event that happened at the end of chapter 35 had been brought forward in the story as it feels like something is happening at last. These final chapters also feel a lot more accomplished and would make me consider reading more of Mark Caney’s work in future.

The cover blurb suggests this is a utopian society but it has a lot in common with some of the dystopian fiction I have picked holes in recently. I would suggest it more suitable for younger readers however there are plenty of other reviewers that have enjoyed it:

Let’s Book It | Booking in Heels | Feeling Fictional

Dolphin Way: Rise of the Guardians is published by Aquapress, better known for diving books than for fiction. Thanks go to Mark Caney for providing me with a copy for review.