I picked up The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi and then realized that it fulfilled one of Book Riot’s Read Harder challenges. Dystopian novel. Check. Though every third book I pick up seems to be about some post-apocalyptic scenario or another, this one worked well for me on a number of levels.
Bacigalupi creates an all too real future where water has become a precious commodity and the southwestern portion of the U.S. is a violent and collapsing morass of “states” fighting for water rights—complete with rigid borders and private militias. Texas has become a wasteland and its refugees are flooding into neighboring states, selling everything they have including themselves to get enough money to head north. In this scenario, there is no alien invasion or devastating zombie plague; this apocalypse is our own doing—thinking that we could somehow make dry dessert areas green forever.
As is often the case in novels like this, Bacigalupi focuses on three characters who will eventually come together in ways both expected and surprising. Angel Velasquez is what’s commonly known as a “water knife,” an enforcer and fixer for Catherine Case, the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Case strives to control as much water as possible to keep Las Vegas running while letting the surrounding areas wither and die. Angel is sent down to Phoenix to investigate rumors about a new water supply. Lucy Monroe is a journalist, living in Phoenix, who decides to pursue a story that may get her killed because it has already caused the death of a friend. Also in Phoenix, Maria Villarosa, a young Texas migrant, lives a hard life where she wheels and deals to make ends meet and hopes to avoid becoming a prostitute like her best friend, Sarah.
In this complex and grim world, the promise of water is what brings all three of these characters together and by the time they meet, you care about each one of them. You want them to beat the odds and save each other but that’s not how this world works, which makes it all the more heartbreakingly real.