This book opens with with an account of the ruthless destruction of an industrial complex. This start might mislead you into thinking that this is nothing more than yet another wham-bam, let's blow them all up, high-octane, hyper-drama. This is not the case. Progressing on from the first chapter, the reader will soon realise that this is a thought provoking novel that speculates on a not-too-distant future. The premise, that the separate states of America are competitors in a deadly game of protecting their water rights, is both intriguing and totally believable.
Having successfully negotiated the initial plethora of character introductions and the three, seemingly disjointed, plot lines, the reader can settle into the world the author has created. It is a stark and disturbing vision. Water is the life blood that sustains communities, without it they decay and die. Chinese hegemony has infiltrated the American economy. The judicial system is an instrument used to exploit those who haven't by those who have. The wellbeing of the individual citizen is an inconvenient obligation that State authorities have abandoned. Life is lived on a knife-edge, and for those who stumble, it possesses a sharp lesson from which there is little chance of redemption.
So to the storyline. An award winning journalist and small-time water dealer, Maria, discovers that her friend and colleague has been murdered. Journalistic instinct drives Maria to investigate the cold-blooded execution. Is this going to develop into just another amateur-sleuth-solves-murder mystery? No. Paolo Bacigalupi is too adept at his craft to fall into that well-explored and over-exploited furrow. The characters that inhabit the pages are three-dimensional individuals with whom the reader can empathise. The backdrop they operate against is believable. The formula-driven plot lines that other authors delight in has been expertly sidestepped. The sub-plots meld into the greater picture and gradually coalesce into a single entity. It is a novel that has been constructed to be unique and thought provoking.
I do not like to include spoilers and so I'll leave the story's details unspoken, but suffice to say that this book weaves a irksome tale that will keep your attention throughout. The seediness of the slums is told in a matter-of-fact way. The struggling underclass identifiable. The opulence of the wealthy non-judgemental. Violence is portrayed without sensationalism, but its threat ever-present. The journey the characters make is bona fide within the context of their lives. The conclusion is hard-hitting and logical without being obvious. Having finished, you'll not be saying "good story, but it's just a story". Instead, you'll be thinking how far present day society is distanced from the author's brainchild.
I like books that work on different levels. This is such a book. If you like your intellect to be challenged while being entertained, then I can definitely recommend The Water Knife. I'll certainly be re-reading it in the not-too-distant future.