The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi follows the characters of Angel Velasquez, a “water knife” or enforcer of the will of a big water rights company; Lucy Monroe, a journalist living in Phoenix, AZ; and Maria, a teenage refugee from Texas. Struggling to alternately survive the dwindling water crisis, uncover the murders and espionage surrounding that crisis, and committing that espionage, all three of these characters get pulled into a hunt for the oldest water rights that would require water be siphoned back to Phoenix to save the dying city.
As someone with an interest in environmental impact, I enjoyed the narrative’s exploration of how a lack of water in the most barren areas of the United States would shape society, political intrigue, economic focus, and personal opportunism. While the mystery of the ancient water rights – who has them, who plans to sell them to the highest bitter, and who gets murdered over them – keeps the plot racing to the end, moments of interaction between the main characters somehow rang a little hollow. As if they often read too much into what they saw in each other, unable to truly connect with the truth.
My favorite part of The Water Knife was the particular aversion toward Texas refugees and how, once the murder of hundreds of Texans trying to cross the border into California came to light, the remaining Texans in Phoenix banded together to start protecting each other from further harm. This resulted in an all-out shootout with some corporate thugs when they perceived them attacking another Texan.
Fellow Texans, you know this is how it would go.
With the focus on environmental downturn, The Water Knife puts a unique spin on fast-paced, action-packed dystopian corporate espionage stories. Those who enjoy reading this particular genre will appreciate the hallmarks of the style with tough, loyal men, gritty, truth-seeking women, and street smart kids, all wrapped up in the fight to change the world.
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