The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (Knopf/Orbit)

WATER IS POWER

Paolo Bacigalupi, New York Times best-selling author of The Windup Girl and National Book Award finalist, delivers a near-future thriller that casts new light on how we live today—and what may be in store for us tomorrow.

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.

 [Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Goodreads]

Ever since I first heard about The Windup Girl, Paulo Bacigalupi has been on my to read list so when I saw a copy of The Water Knife on NetGalley I knew I couldn’t resist requesting it and it did not disappoint when I got the chance to read it, with Bacigalupi creating an awesome standalone novel taking place in a dystopian world unlike any other, offering a different take on the future that is handled very well indeed, exploring the water drought and its consequences that led the American southwest decimated. Now a fight over water is beginning, with Arizona and Nevada skirmishing over the lapsing Colorado River, with California watching, deciding whether or not it should just take the whole river for itself. And a Las Vegas Water Knife, Angel Velasquez, a detective, spy and assassin, steps into the fray to ensure that his boss Catherin Case continues her monopoly on any water developments in the desert, and when rumours of something in Phoenix crop up, Angel is sent out to investigate and finds himself crossing paths with a hardened journalist Lucy Monroe and Texas Migrant Maria Villarosa.

It’s an interesting blend of characters and a unique take on a dystopian future with most novels preferring to head so far into the future so that planet Earth is almost unrecognisable. The names of states are often gone, and any mention of the present day is brushed aside in favour of usually a ruthless dictator and some teenagers trying to overthrow his regime. If you’re tired of the normal dystopian tropes then you’ll want to turn your attention to The Water Knife, which is a brilliant, fascinating read that’s rich, well developed and well written. It’s one of my favourite dystopian that I’ve read in recent years, matching the likes of Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent Station Eleven in terms of quality.

The Water Knife focuses on three different main characters all mentioned in the blurb above who all share POVs. They’re each flawed, well rounded and well developed characters who have fascinating storylines and it’s great to see them interact with one another as interaction is something that Bacigalupi nails. Angel Velasquez, Lucy Monroe and Maria Villarosa are all great characters, and really make for fantastic narrators and it’s great to follow the path that they travel, with nobody ever really being safe and the tension always being kept high. It’s a pretty violent book that’s not for the faint of heart, packing enough originality to stand out from pretty much everything else on the market right now.

It dares to tackle current themes, with Water droughts in California being prevalent in America right now making this book almost feel as though it actually could be a vision of the future, offering a fresh approach to something that we haven’t seen before. There’s enough attention to the world given in The Water Knife as a fantastic backdrop and we find ourselves fully immersed in the setting.  However, the human story at the heart of the book is the most prominent, and really drives the narrative forward.

The Water Knife isn’t exactly the lightest novel around, dealing with some heavy content, but the many areas that Bacigalupi handles are executed well. I didn’t really have any major problems whilst reading this and I think this is something that should certainly appeal to fans of Station Eleven, as I’ve mentioned above, as well as fans of Bacigalupi’s previous novels and anyone looking for something different in the dystopian genre. Regardless, it’s certainly something that comes highly recommended, whichever reason you’re buying the book for.

VERDICT: 9.5/10

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