The Water Knife

Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife
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The Water Knife

Paolo Bacigalupi

A highly anticipated new novel from the author of the bestselling ‘The Windup Girl’ - a novel that swept the board for awards and took the world by storm

In a future hammered by climate change and drought, mountain snows have turned to rain, and rain evaporates before it hits the ground. In a fragmenting United States, the cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas skirmish for a dwindling share of the Colorado River. But it is the Las Vegas water knives - assassins, terrorists and spies - who are legendary for protecting Las Vegas' water supplies, and for ensuring Phoenix’s ruin.

When rumours of a game-changing water source surface, Las Vegas dispatches elite water knife Angel Velasquez to Phoenix to investigate. There, he discovers hardened journalist Lucy Monroe, who holds the secret to the water source Angel seeks. But Angel isn’t the only one hunting for water, Lucy is no pushover, and the death of a despised water knife is a small price to pay in return for the life-giving flow of a river.


I’ve neglected adult sci-fi in my adult life as it’s something that I read a lot of it as a teenager, and this novel has reminded me that sci-fi often mirrors what is happening today. It is often fobbed off merely as entertainment. The Water Knife, although highly engaging, holds at its centre an environmental message and with much of the world in drought at the moment, including California, it’s a message which is highly prescient.

Bacigalupi envisions a near future where the Southwest of the United States is an arid wasteland. The states of Arizona, Nevada and California have closed their borders and are quarrelling amongst themselves over the water rights to the Colorado River. Boss of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Catherine Case, is known for her luxury developments, or ‘archologies’, multi-leveled structures that house the wealthier members of society. Case’s power depends on holding onto water supplies and to do so she requires ‘Water Knife’, Angel, Case’s very own spy, assassin and muscle. Angel is sent to Phoenix to investigate a possible new business development for Case at the same time that a journalist is found slain in the street. Lucy Monroe, a friend and colleague of the dead journo, investigates, and uncovers a world of corruption. It is here that her path crosses with Angel and a young Texan refugee named Maria.

Bacigalupi won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for his last adult novel, The Windup Girl. He is a master world builder and this dystopian novel could very well be seen as a prophetic vision of the future where the scarcity of water has splintered the world into a politically and economically fragmented place and where lawlessness and a societal degradation are commonplace, while our poor are left, quite literally, in the dust. But it’s also a riveting futuristic thriller that begins as a complex slow burn which is worth enduring as the last three quarters are an exceptionally thrilling ride.

Jason Austin is a buyer and bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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