Book Review: When the water is gone

Depleted aquifers, drought, and dust storms in the American Southwest bring out the worst in people and their politics, allowing gangs and militias to run rampant, loosely controlled by the remaining city-states in Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife. Each city struggles to not dry up completely while everyone is trying to score enough water to stay alive for another day.

Angel Velasquez is the Water Knife in this frighteningly plausible near-future thriller. In a world where the states in the U.S. have closed their borders to each other, and water supplies are dwindling, his job is to make sure Las Vegas gets enough water, by any means necessary, and usually that means cutting off the water supplies of other cities and states.

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Lucy Monroe is a journalist in Phoenix, tracking the disintegration of society despite her sister begging her to come to Vancouver, the promised land, where water still comes from the sky. She knows of the dangers, but takes more and more risks to chase down the stories that powerful people do not want told.

Maria Villarosa is a migrant from Texas, another desperate refugee among tens of thousands trying to find a way to a better life. Her life is a day-to-day struggle against gangs, rich predators, and water that may cost more per litre than she can make in a week. But Maria is smart enough to have a plan that just might work.

Rumors of a vast new source of water surface, and the three characters' lives become entwined in a fast-paced mystery as they all race to find the water and stay ahead of killers trying to make sure they never do.

It's a frightening story because it feels like it could have been ripped out of next year's news. Brutal and almost too realistic, it had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. This novel will give you a lot to think about in the real world long after you finish reading.

Dethe Elza is a Digital Services Technician normally found at the Brighouse Branch of the Richmond Public Library, currently working to build remote programs for animation and coding.

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