The Water Knife
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Format: Hardcover, 375pages
Cover Art: Oliver Mundy
Release Date: May 26, 2015
Paolo Bacigalupi burst on the scene in 2009 with his debut novel, The Windup Girl. He had already put out a collection of short fiction, but it was this story of a setting in a world run rampant with genetic engineering of crops, animals, and people, where the dependence on a dwindling supply of oil had led to the collapse of economies and governments that garnered awards and much critical acclaim. He followed that up with two Young Adult books set in the same world, but different locations; a zombie book for middle schoolers; and Young Adult thriller called The Doubt Factory so The Water Knife is his first adult book in several years.
Compared to The Windup Girl, the world of The Water Knife is set in a future much closer to the present where drought has devastated the Western United States and partially fractured the country. Lucy is a hard-bitten journalist who fights tooth and nail for her adopted city of Phoenix, Maria is a refugee from the failed state of Texas, and Angel is the titular water knife from Las Vegas, a detective, assassin, and spy for the powerful Southern Nevada Water Authority. They all come to together in the failing city of Phoenix as a various individuals and interests clash over rumored, near-mythical water rights that could have the power to reshape the entire region.
The book starts off a little preachy at first as it settles into the world-building of the setting, but it becomes less so as the thriller plot gets going. The political background of water politics is still of vital concern and an important one I think, especially considering how little people in other regions of the world understand the importance of water. Several times throughout the novel, the book Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner is mentioned almost in terms of idol worship. However, having read much of the book myself I can say the book is quite an eye-opener detailing keen insight into the history and mindset of water politics in the West. Given current events like Governor Brown's new regulations in the face of California's exceptional drought, The Water Knife feels even more timely.
The Water Knife is a engrossing and compelling near-future thriller. It also feels more pessimistic than Bacigalupi's earlier works, perhaps because being set a closer future with known politics, it feels like a possible future that could happen very easily. And perhaps for that reason it's all the more reason to read it.