Title: Pod
Author: Laline Paull
Publisher: Corsair
Genre: Contemporary/General fiction
Book format: Diigal pre-release copy
Sweet Strawberries: Sweet Strawberry

Description:  Ea has always felt like an outsider. She suffers from a type of deafness that means she cannot master the spinning rituals that unite her pod of spinner dolphins. When tragedy strikes her family and Ea feels she is partly to blame, she decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and leave.
As Ea ventures into the vast, she discovers dangers everywhere, from lurking predators to strange objects floating in the water. But just as she is coming to terms with her solitude, a chance encounter with a group of arrogant bottlenoses will irrevocably alter the course of her life.
In her terrifying, propulsive novel, Laline Paull explores the true meaning of family, belonging, sacrifice – the harmony and tragedy of the pod – within an ocean that is no longer the sanctuary it once was, and which reflects a world all too recognisable to our own.

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Rreview: This is a dark and quite sad book to read and I’m not sure how I feel about it after reading.  Ea is a young dolphin, part of the Longi tribe of spinner dolphins who live in a lagoon after fleeing their home waters many years ago.  Ea’s life is a happy one, despite the troubles she has hearing the ocean’s music and spinning.  One day something terrible happens which makes her flee her family, but alone out in the vast there are many dangers, some she may not be able to escape.

This is quite a dark novel with a lot of unsettling things happening to the characters.  The book begins with a prologue showing us a little of an elder Ea, thinking about the younger generation and about the home she’s now in before the rest of the story begins showing us a young Ea who has only recently reached adulthood.  Ea’s character is one I liked straight away.  The young spinner dolphin is still very young and childlike with how innocent and unknowing she is and I like how she has a problem hearing the ocean which can make her a bit upset.  When the story begins Ea is scared of performing a special dance, that all the Longi tribe perform at a special time, to mark Exodus, their leaving of their own home waters years ago.

We get to know a little of Ea before the story switches in the next chapter to another character, and this switching of characters happens throughout the story with different chapters for different characters.  Apart from Ea we also get to know a rorqual whale, the Tursiops tribe of bottlenose dolphins, a lone dolphin raised by people called Google, and a few fish.  I have to admit to having some trouble engaging with the story at the start as the chapters switched just as I ws enjoying getting to know Ea and her family and I especially didn’t really know what was happening with the Tursiops.

As the story moves on in becomes very dark.  Things happen to certain characters which are disturbing.  I felt like some of the things that happened made this difficult to read, especially for someone sensitve like me.  I don’t want to spoil the story by saying too much of what happens but there are some very horrible moments including multiple scenes of dolphin rape.  This is rape of female dolphins by male ones and it’s not just singular rape but gang rape too.  The dolphins characters are like people, we get to know them and feel for them as you would a human and I found these rape scenes to be pretty horrible to read as I just wasn’t expecting it.  It’s not too graphic in description, but the amount of times one particular sweet character is raped made it hard for me to keep reading this and I only kept on going through the pages as I desperately wondered if there was anything good that would happen in the story.

The tursiops story is difficult to read at first as I just idn’t really know what was happening.  It took a while to get to know the structure of the pod but it did get more interesting the further into the book.  While the Tursiops story was decent, I really did enjoy reading about Google!  Google, a dolphin that was raised by humans and named by them, is a character I really loved and what happens to him is so interesting and also heart-breaking when you learn more about him.

At first all the main characters have their separate stories but after some time the different characters meet each other.  I like what happens with Ea’s story and also Google’s, and as the book reaches its ending it’s very dramatic and exciting.  The action builds up and is really fast paced near the end with what happens to the dolphins in a dangerous situation.  And although this was really interesting and kept me gripped in the final pages, the overall ending is a semi satisfying one for me.  The actual ending is good, but before it there are so many sad moments, that I found it hard to enjoy the very final pages of the story, and in the end I felt like I was cheated out of a better ending, it could have had so much more in those final pages to be more satisfying.

The book seems to be well researched.  Certain things that happen to the dolphins and to the wrasse and ocean feel like they are well researched and this book left me feeling like I learned something as well as reading a fictional story.  The environmental story of what’s happening to the ocean is good, however at times it felt like there was just too much realism, too many explanations of what was happening, especially when it came to the wrasse and its body transformation, and also too much realism with the rape which happens multiple times and didn’t feel like it had to always be there, and even though it happens in reality (I’ve since looked this up), it felt like it was just too often and at times I felt like this book could have been a little more fiction than fact.

As I’ve said already there is rape but also a lot of violence and death in this story of marine animals.  There is about one use of the s swear word and some of the violence towards animals and deaths are quite gory.  The story focuses a lot on what is happening to the ocean from an environmental perspective which is actually very good and throughout the tale the different animals experience horrible things happening to the life in the ocean.  This book is very much a book with an environmental message and shows how horrible life can be for animals who encounter humans and the result of human activity like oil spills.  The environmental message is one I really liked, and much of that part of the story was good to read.  It does show well how badly humans treat the oceans and I especially liked the dark and eerie scenes in the Sea of Tamas and what happens to some of the animals there.

Overall this book leaves me feeling more sad than anything else though.  I actually cried after reading this but not in a good way and I have to be honest, I was very upset for a long time about the violence some of the characters experienced.  This is definitely a book that needs a content warning for some people like me who are very sensitive to certain things and who love animals as this book might be too much for some as it was for me.  Overall it’s a decent story about the environment and I did like some of the scenes in it, but there was too much sadness and sad and horrible things happening to outweigh the good, and although the final ending is good for all the characters who are there, it just felt like something was missing, like there could have been more added, like a better ending to make all the sadness worth it.

I have struggled to decide what to rate this book.  Normally a book I didn’t like gets a 2 because there’s still some good parts to it, and this book does have some good moments where it’s dramatic and exciting, but this book left me feeling upset and disturbed and it just felt like a happier ending was missed out.  Another aspect which made reading this harder was the narration which at times made it difficult to connect with any of the characters as it felt distant somehow except with scenes of Ea.  The story of the wrasse, although interesting, slowed the pace a lot for me and it felt like it took away from what was happening to the dolphin story and could have been omitted without really affecting the main plot.

After saying all that I just didn’t like this book and it’s a shame as I really was excited to read this as it featured animals, especially dolphins which I love.  But it’s just too dark for me, contains too much rape and sex in general (there’s a lot of talk about the festival of sex in the ocean!) and while it means well to push the environmental message, it’s just too realistic for me and I’m sorry to the publisher and author for my rating, but I just didn’t like it. :/

What do you think of this book?  Do you like books with animals in them?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂