Review: The Water Knife

the water knife

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Published: 26.05.2015 by Knopf

Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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Synopsis: 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. 


This year I’m partaking in the Goodreads Awards Challenge, which means that I’m trying to read some of the nominees/winners from 2015. This was nominated in the science fiction category, and the premise sounded really intriguing to me. So when I saw it at the library, I snatched it up! 


I have to be honest: I was completely confused in the beginning. Even after the first few pages, I had no idea what was going on. The terms used were a tad confusing, and it’s like you’re thrown into a story when it already started 20 pages ago. I wanted to truly give it a try though, so I decided to stick with it. Best decision ever. 

In this dystopian/science fiction book, a severe drought has decimated (part of) the US. And water has become an item for trade, as those who own the so called water rights, own the water. Imagine the rivers and lakes being on the stock market. If you own the oldest rights to said rivers and lakes, they’re yours. You decide where the water goes, and who gets to use it. 

That’s the scariest aspect of this book: all this horror, this devastation and death is so realistic. I could see humanity moving in that direction. That’s why this book is so utterly terrifying. 

The story follows 3 main characters who all have their own POV. It occurs mostly in Phoenix and Las Vegas, although California is mentioned quite often as well. Phoenix is a dying city, as their water supplies are dwindling down, while Las Vegas has Catherine Case -a woman who acquires water rights by any means possible.

Angel, a man who works for Catherine Case is sent to Phoenix to investigate rumors about newly discovered water rights that could change the game entirely for Las Vegas. Lucy is a reporter who went to Phoenix to report on what occurred in the dying city. Maria is a young Texan girl whose father died, so she’s trying to survive in Phoenix. 

It’s a great story revolving around murder, mystery and intrigue. After those first few pages, I got hooked! I didn’t want to put it back down, because I wanted to know what would happen next. Who was behind it all? What was the mysterious source, and where was it located? How would Phoenix survive? All those questions roamed through my head when I wasn’t reading. It was definitely a thrilling read. I did enjoy the ending too, although it left a lot open. 


First up, Angel. I thought Angel was the most interesting character of the 3. He’s originally from Mexico, but after many trials ended up in Las Vegas. He lives in one of the arcologies (which I think means high-tech communities for the rich with an endless supply of water) in Vegas, and works as a water knife. He works against the water rights of other states -such as bombing a water facility. His life is extremely interesting, which means he’s an interesting character too. He works hard, and does as he’s told. He has a very realistic, or semi-pessimistic, view on humanity. I admire his tenacity very much. 

Next up, Lucy. At first I loved her perspective. She’s a reporter, who has learned what life in Phoenix is really like after one year. She decides she has seen enough, and has kept her mouth shut for long enough as well. So she’ll write a true story, one that will open everyone’s eyes. This brings her in Angel’s path. By the end, I didn’t love her perspective as much anymore. She just seemed too righteous. After all this time, did she learn nothing about humanity? 

Last up, Maria. Man, I feel so bad for her. This girl has been through a lot. What a rough life. She’s a Texan kid who fled to Phoenix with her father before Texas dried up. She has no money, especially after her father passed away, and no family. But she’s smart, so she’s trying to survive by using her brains and intuition. 

I’d highly recommend this book, even if you’re not that into science fiction.  It’s a fascinating and thrilling read, made even scarier by the possible reality of it. 

Review: The Water Knife

7 thoughts on “Review: The Water Knife

  1. […] The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi // ★★★★.5 // I picked this book up from the library because it’s part of the Goodreads Awards Challenge. I’m so glad I read it though! I don’t think I would’ve picked it up if I hadn’t challenged myself to do so through the Awards. I’m happy I didn’t miss out on this incredible read. You can read my full review here.  […]


  2. I was exactly like Maryam. After finishing this book, I enjoyed it so much I went back and picked up his debut The Windup Girl. The Water Knife was my first Bacigalupi novel and I certainly wasn’t going to let it be the last. Loved it.


  3. I finished it last week and I really, really enjoyed it. So much so, that I started reading The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi’s debut novel just after finishing it because I really want to read everything by this author!
    Angel was also my favorite character, Lucy was a bit annoying at the end but I could still understand all of her actions and, in her place, I probably would have done the exact same thing she did.


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it too! I definitely want to read more of Bacigalupi’s work. Are you enjoying The Windup Girl? I’d like to think I would do the same as Lucy, but I’m not sure. When it comes down to it, I think most of us will be more of a Maria, just trying to survive.


      1. Yes I am enjoying The Windup Girl, it ‘s both very different and very similar to the Water Knife which is a bit odd. I’m not sure I would be a Maria because she’s extremely bold and brave even if she didn’t always make the “right” decisions and I don’t think that I would have her courage really. I would more likely be dying somewhere without water…

        Liked by 1 person

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