Title: The Water Knife
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Genre: Science fiction, dystopia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
WATER IS POWER
The American Southwest has been decimated by drought. Nevada and Arizona skirmish over dwindling shares of the Colorado River, while California watches, deciding if it should just take the whole river all for itself. Into the fray steps Las Vegas water knife Angel Velasquez. Detective, assassin, and spy, Angel “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert and that anyone who challenges her is left in the gutted-suburban dust.
When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. With a wallet full of identities and a tricked-out Tesla, Angel arrows south, hunting for answers that seem to evaporate as the heat index soars and the landscape becomes more and more oppressive. There, Angel encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist, who knows far more about Phoenix’s water secrets than she admits, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas migrant, who dreams of escaping north to those places where water still falls from the sky.
As bodies begin to pile up and bullets start flying, the three find themselves pawns in a game far bigger, more corrupt, and dirtier than any of them could have imagined. With Phoenix teetering on the verge of collapse and time running out for Angel, Lucy, and Maria, their only hope for survival rests in one another’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.
So intense and gritty but terrifyingly plausible.
Like all of Bacigalupi's novels, The Water Knife takes an environmental issue that we don't think too much about and then examines what would happen if that issue was the reason the world ended. In this case, it's a scarcity of water. California walls itself off (as a Californian, YES that's exactly what we would do) and the neighboring states fight for rights to use rivers and other water sources. The fighting ranges from bureaucrats making underhand deals to assassins sent out to kill people for political advantage to dying, thirsty people on the streets fighting tooth and nail for a drop of water. The great thing is that you get to see the conflict from all angles, and everyone believes they're on the right side.
When I say this book is gritty and intense, I mean it. I thought I'd read bad torture scenes in grimdark fantasy novels, but they've got nothing on this book. I was physically sick and had to stop reading for a bit, which hasn't ever happened before. This book is not for the faint of heart!
Although the story is about water scarcity, it is extremely character-centric. You get to know everyone, from a journalist on the field to a mercenary to a young girl who doesn't realize just how important she is. In the end, you know not all of them can have happy endings because they are all on different sides of the conflict, but you still want to root for them anyway. I really appreciated how Bacigalupi focused on each character as a person and a human being instead of just as pawns or as their role in the water conflict.
In short, highly recommended if you're in the mood for something dark but eye-opening.
*A free eARC was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review*
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