Book Review: The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi

Toomie sighed. “I used to know this Indian guy. Skinny dude, came over from India. Didn’t have a wife or family anymore. Maybe they were back there in India, I can’t remember. Anyway, the thing he said that stuck with me was that people are alone here in America. They’re all alone. And they don’t trust anyone except themselves, and they don’t rely on anyone except themselves. He said that was why he thought India would survive all this apocalyptic shit, but America wouldn’t. Because here, no one knew their neighbors.” He laughed at that. “I can still remember his head wagging back and forth, ‘No one is knowing their neighbors.'”

The Book
The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi
Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

What It Is
A post-apocalyptic novel that takes place when the world has passed an ecological tipping point. The American West has run out of water, and only the largest cities remain. Forest fires rip across the mountains, and states have closed their borders to outsiders. Cities are resorting to nefarious means of getting their hands on water rights, with California lining snipers up along the Colorado River and Las Vegas employing mercenaries as “Water Knives” to implement take-overs of pipelines.

The book follows several different characters and weaves their stories together. Angel is a water knife working for Catherine Case, the “Water Queen” of Las Vegas. Case sends him to Phoenix when one of her other guys starts getting scared of what’s about to go down. He’s not sure what he’s looking for, but right away he can feel something is off.

In Phoenix, he meets the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Lucy, who moved there in order to write about the city as it crumbles around her. She’s resourceful, clever, and is dedicated to her job. We also follow the story of Maria and Sarah, two youngish girls trying to survive, by whatever means necessary, eventually leading to tragic and very violent ends.

Lucy and Angel team up to track down the oldest known water rights to the river, finding corpses and backstabbing along the way. Eventually, Angel realizes he knows exactly where the rights are, and together they go after them.

What I Loved
It’s a terrifying interpretation of what could happen if we, as a species, don’t act to stop runaway global warming, especially with articles like this coming out. Post-apocalyptic tales are my favorite genre, and I enjoyed the climate change angle in this one. I also enjoyed the pace of the story.  However, I have read other reviews where people have said it started off too slow for them, so I think it comes down to personal taste.

What I Disliked
A lot of the characters fall flat, and I wish there had been more character development. Most of them display a “have to be tough to survive” mentality, and that’s about it. Maria and Toomie are the only characters I had any amount of sympathy for. There was also the rushed and unlikely romance between Lucy and Angel, and I feel like the story could have easily continued without it. Finally, I hated the moment Angel realizes he knows where the water rights are; it seems unlikely and a little bit like a copout.

Verdict (Buy/Borrow/Skip)
Borrow. It’s an entertaining book to read, and it’s an interesting look at a futuristic America where we didn’t do enough to stop global warming. It’s not perfect though, so I’m not sure this is the sort of book that you would find yourself picking up multiple times.

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