Book Review: The Water Knife

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, detective, leg-breaker, assassin and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel "cuts" water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet, while the poor get nothing but dust.

When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with no love for Vegas and every reason to hate Angel, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas refugee who survives by her wits and street smarts in a city that despises everything that she represents.  

With bodies piling up, bullets flying, and Phoenix teetering on collapse, it seems like California is making a power play to monopolize the life-giving flow of a river. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

Paolo Bacigalupi is best known for his book The Windup Girl, which received both a first place win in the Hugo and Nebula awards of 2010. Winning both these prestigious awards is quite a feat. Now Paolo Bacigalupi is with another stunning book, The Water Knife. I read some very good dystopian stories over the years, varying in different degrees in their severity of the projected world from completely destroyed to changes in certain small aspects. In The Water Knife Paolo Bacigalupi present a what could be very realistic picture in a few decades, because what is the water scarcity persists and only a few places have enough? The Water Knife is a thrilling story of what could become reality. 

As I mentioned above, The Water Knife tells the story of a severe drought in America,  states in the Southwest region have dwindling supplies of water. Several very strong rules and regulations have been put up, and the poor people are the ones that have to pay the price, they have to pay a lot of money for water at local, collective water pumps, it is no longer a commodity but a luxury item. For the rich people life is still as comfortable as ever, they live in big sprawling arcologies, where no one will look twice when you leave the tap running for just a few second longer. Catherine Case is one such person who stands at the head of the big arcologies, she has to make sure that she can keep her people happy with water. Here comes Angel Velasquez into the picture. Angel is far from angelic, he is hired by Catherine to do the dirty work for her, he will go through many lengths to get the job done. Rephrase, he will go over bodies. Dead bodies. To get what he needs. Angel is just one of the three perspective that you follow in The Water Knife, his task is clear, but it all is about to change when rumors of a new water source become know to Catherine and Angel is sent to make sure it gets into her hands. The second point of view is offered by Pulitzer price winning journalist Lucy, she has chosen on purpose to report on the harsh conditions of the water shortage. She makes sure that the rich people like Catherine are put in the wrong daylight. Lucy cares a lot about people and she want to tell the truth, she also hears about the new source, a source where the poor people have only been able to dream about. And she investigates it to get the scoop and thus Angel's and Lucy's paths get crossed, not all for the better.... A third perspective is offered by Maria, who together with her friend and family live in Phoenix and have a very hard time to just get by, through her view you really get to see the nasty details of how hard it is living for water. 

The story of The Water Knife took a bit to get flowing, but after the quarter mark the story somehow transformed as the tension started to increase and of course also the bodies started to pile up. The way that Paolo Bacigalupi sets up the story first telling about the individual character before letting their faiths merge also produced a slower start, but a start that paid off in the end as you got much more acquainted with the different characters, before you are put in a thrilling rollercoaster ride. 

The Water Knife really gets a really strong point from the diverse and strong characters. Angel, Lucy and Marie. Each of their personalities are different. Angel Velasquez, is a water-knife, a sum of assasin, spy, hitman and much more. Basically there to take care of the dirty work. In the beginning of the story this is precisely how you see him, he will make sure to get the job done... Seriously. The ending proved for me very provocative in the way that Angel reacted on one side towards Catherine, it is not often seen, for me. His loyalness to be exact. Lucy is a very strong female protagonist. Where a lot of reporter are saying to go the extra mile, Lucy actually does it and as a female navigating through this hostile world she encounters more than one hostile situation. Maria is just as interesting and as I mentioned, she offers a completely different view, how to survive on the streets, where the bigger and tougher and stronger and more guns you have the more powerful you are. Even when she tries to make a legal sort of living, she has to give in. Her choices in the end of the book are therefore much more understanding, she has had and is having a hard time, logical than she wants to get out in the best possible way. 
What I liked most about The Water Knife was the whole setting that Paolo Bacigalupi introduced, the world building around it is just amazing. Drought is a current issue in America and forecast reveals that in the next years it will continue. So the effects that are described in The Water Knife, well who knows. Paolo Bacigalupi for me creates the perfect ambiance surround this theme, a truly thrilling and terrifying story. Highly recommended. 

For this version I got the audiobook from Audible. I have been listening to some over the last year and this is my first that is narrated by Almarie Guerra. She really makes it a great performance. Angel is Mexican, Latin America and the accent she places on his character is just spot on. The other character are also very fine narrated and Almarie Guerra really strikes a perfect pacing with accelerating and slowing down the story in certain events. 


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