The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

I received this book from Little Brown in a competition, and I was thrilled, because it looked really appealing from the beginning. I love the cover, and I’m not even sure I read anything about it, but the name sounded cool. And it didn’t disappoint.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The story is set in drought stricken America, where water has become the new oil, a scarce resource that we fight for. But the fighting is between the US states/cities for the little remaining water, especially around Phoenix, Las Vegas, and California, who didn’t really have much water to begin with. Other places seem to be doing okay, but not these ones. Because of diminishing water supplies, each state is wrangling both judicially and extra-judicially for water rights, and to act out these water rights. And as the towns get cut off, mass exoduses occur, causing vast numbers of refugees, mainly Texans. But, these refugees have little place to go, the nearest areas are drought stricken, and fiercely defending their borders (which they are now allowed to do, to stop the refugees).

It’s a complex world, and the wrangling for water rights, includes the mythical Water Knife, going into towns, and executing orders to secure more water for their town. Once such Water Knife, is Angel, one of our three narrating protagonists. His boss is Catherine Case, who runs Las Vegas, and is a formidable woman. Our other narrators, are Lucy, a journalist in crumbling Phoenix, and Maria, a Texan refugee in Phoenix. No prizes for guessing that they’re all going to end up in Phoenix and run in to one another.

For something like ‘water rights’, which sounds pretty dry, it was a fascinating thriller. Plenty of action, and some nice (though fairly predictable) twists and turns. It was quite dark in places, especially around some details of a few dead bodies, and there was a somewhat disturbing sex scene as well. So it’s not particularly one for children, even teens. But these dark scenes are well placed in a very messed up world, where people are desperate to survive, and those at the top seem to flourish.

I really liked the premise of the world, which is conceivable in our own future, and the characters were rich and interesting.  And the ending really did give you some space to stop and think about what you would do, and what the characters should be doing. Overall, a really nice book.


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