Audiobook Review: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Narrator: Almarie Guerra
Published by Audible Studios on May 26, 2015
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction
Length: 14 hours
WATER IS POWER Paolo Bacigalupi, New York Times best-selling author of The Windup Girl and National Book Award finalist, delivers a near-future thriller that casts new light on how we live today—and what may be in store for us tomorrow. The American Southwest has been decimated by drought. Nevada and Arizona skirmish over dwindling shares of the Colorado River, while California watches, deciding if it should just take the whole river all for itself. Into the fray steps Las Vegas water knife Angel Velasquez. Detective, assassin, and spy, Angel “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert and that anyone who challenges her is left in the gutted-suburban dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. With a wallet full of identities and a tricked-out Tesla, Angel arrows south, hunting for answers that seem to evaporate as the heat index soars and the landscape becomes more and more oppressive. There, Angel encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist, who knows far more about Phoenix’s water secrets than she admits, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas migrant, who dreams of escaping north to those places where water still falls from the sky. As bodies begin to pile up and bullets start flying, the three find themselves pawns in a game far bigger, more corrupt, and dirtier than any of them could have imagined. With Phoenix teetering on the verge of collapse and time running out for Angel, Lucy, and Maria, their only hope for survival rests in one another’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.From the Hardcover edition.
The Water Knife is set in a harsh dystopian world that is just as violent, gritty and grim as any grimdark fantasy I have read. It’s a near future where water has become scarce and is now the ultimate commodity. Towns have been shut down and cleared out. There is a dark underworld with a gang or mafia type of style to it. The way water was handled reminded me of how oil and gas can be viewed. What we fear will happen with oil has happened in this world, but with a much more critical resource. Water. What do you do when the very thing you need to live is so scarce?
The book shows a stark contrast between the people still living in luxury and those that that have do things like sell their bodies to survive. It is unsettling and violent. Lucy, our main protagonist, is a journalist who went to Arizona specifically to show the disparity, to find the real story, not just “collapse porn” or graphic images meant more for shock value than for real journalistic value that most reporters are going for.
Maria is a bright teenage refugee from Texas, struggling to survive in a way she can live with. Texas refugees do not have it easy. They come to Arizona hoping for a better life, but find that life is still a struggle for them in Arizona. They are discriminated against and often have to resort to less than desirable things to get by, such as becoming a Texas bangbang girl. Yep, that’s pretty much what it sounds like. Pretty much, everything has turned to shit. Violent, corrupt, total shit.
Vegas is one place that you would think would have it as hard as other places, it’s in the desert with out a natural water supply, but yet it has managed to survive by way of people who secure the rights to water. With only so much water to go around, rights to water from the Colorado river and other sources are controlled like commodities. One place’s gain is another place’s loss. The stakes are high. So there are people who work to control as much water as possible. Our last character works for one of these players in a position like a heavy, the muscle, whatever you want to call it. He’s the guy that gets the dirty work, the work you don’t talk about, done. But I can’t help but like him. He’s just another character trying to do what they have to to get by.
All of the characters are damaged and have some serious baggage in their past, but I think that’s the world. I think everyone in this place would be the same way. I have to say, I loved this book. It’s one that you can read for the thriller aspect of it, but it is also very firmly an eco-thriller, were you can think a bit about the environmental aspect. I did not find this book preachy as can be the case sometimes.
What I will say, as much as I loved it, is that I don’t think this is a book for everyone. If you are a reader that is easily unsettled by violence, torture, prostitution, etc, then read with caution. I can’t even say don’t read it (because I loved it), just know what you are getting into.
Audiobook notes: This made a fantastic audiobook. The pace is fast, the narrator did a great job. It is a page turner in audio-format.