The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jacket Blurb: 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.
Read for February book group.
Premise of the book is water is at an all time low in the desert southwest. Reservoirs are tapped out, aquifers are tapped out, climate change has devastated Texas in the form of hurricanes and tornadoes and refugees are fleeing across New Mexico and Arizona with the hopes of making it to California. The US is fractured, martial law rules, and water rights are prized above all. The older the better.
Angel is a "water knife", an enforcer who cuts off water when Catherine Case says so. Caroline sent Angel to Phoenix because something strange was happening. Lucy is a well known reporter who starts poking around the death of her friend Jamie and finds he was dealing in far bigger than he was letting on - something that got him killed. Maria is a Texas refugee, scraping by in the projects and trying to save enough money to get out. When a scheme to sell water blows up because she forgot to pay off the local Gang Lord, in a desperate attempt to recoup the money she owes, her roommate Sarah provides a solution that leaves Sarah dead and Maria on the run.
Around these three characters is a city on the brink of upheaval, and rumors of water rights beyond anyone's wildest dreams.
I enjoyed this for multiple reasons - first and foremost, I love Bacigalupi's writing. If you haven't read Wind-up Girl or Shipbreaker, I strongly recommend them. His worlds while futuristic, are realistic and really come to life on the page. His characters are interesting and engaging, and his plots suck you in and keep you engaged right up to the last page.
Second, I've watched/read Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (recommended), I've been to Vegas and Tucson numerous times, and I'm familiar with the water issues the southwest faces. Working in the natural resource field, hydrology, water rights, snow melt, rain water are all rather important things and integral to so much that it's mind boggling. So this book held some particular interest for me - what Bacigaluipi was proposing could happen. It's not that far fetched.
I liked the idea of the arcologies. These isolated domes of privilege while the masses swirled around the edges much like sand itself. Further, the arcologies provided and interesting link to Chinese financial influence.
Lastly, the whole plot revolving around water rights was just so well executed. The astute reader will pick up the moment everything clicks into place and it's just brilliant.
Despite my gushing, I will have to admit I found the lead-up a tich slow. You know our three main characters are going to come together at some point, I just thought it took a bit long to get there. And yeah, I fully admit I can get a bit impatient with plots.
When all is said and done, another brilliantly executed book by Mr. Bacigalupi.
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