Review: “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi 
Publication Date: May 26th, 2015
Genre: Science Fiction, Apocalyptic, Thriller
Format: Hardcover
Find it on: Goodreads


In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, leg-breaker, assassin, and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel “cuts” water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her luxurious developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet while the poor get dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, it seems California is making a play to monopolize the life-giving flow of the river, and Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a drought-hardened journalist, and Maria Villarosa, a young refugee who survives by her wits in a city that despises everything she represents. 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. 

From Goodreads


TLDR; thrilling and believable apocalyptic read set in a future where water is scarce, drawing out the harsh brutality of human nature

This was a thrilling read almost akin to watching an action-packed TV show. Taking place in a very plausible future where water is scarce, dust storms ravage the country, and China has become an even bigger world player (influencing technology, local currencies, and language across the ocean in the US), we follow four distinct characters that span the breadth of this broken society.

  • Maria and Sarah are ‘Texans’, destitute just trying to scrape by. Their world is brutal and raw, at the mercy of the events and players around them. No matter how much they try to get ahead they’re constantly knocked down and dragged through the dirt by those purposefully keeping them under their boots for their own benefit.
  • Then there’s Lucy, a talented, highly motivated reporter with a good heart. Although she has family and means to move up north where it’s safer she’s drawn to the harsh world around her. She wades into the muck, violence, and corruption by choice however unwise it may be. Lucy may have come into her profession ‘wet’ and naïve, but she’s learned the ropes by now – where to prod and where to let it alone. Or so she thought.
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum from all of this is Catherine Case, a mogul who has built out a complex web of allies and agreements set to keep her influence towering over all others. She moves among the powerful and wealthy in this world, bending others to her will with the force of her water knives.
  • And Angel is one of those water knives. A hired hand drug out of his dire past by her mercy, he loyally and dispassionately executes her orders. But is he as cold as we’re meant to believe?

And that’s the layout from which we start.

This book was a really great, high action apocalyptic story. Well-written and believable, it was abound with all the drugs, greed, sex, corruption, and brutality you’d expect from this kind of book. Being so believable it also obviously contains all sorts of societal messages spanning struggles of the blue collar and lower class, privilege of the wealthy, aforementioned corruption in leadership, and so forth. The ending was perfect as well – not overly neat or explicit, with just the right amount of uncertainty for a book like this. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys apocalyptic thriller reads.

Background photo behind book cover by Igor Faoro from Pexels


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