Meteorologists all talked as if there could be records – and record-breakers – as if there were some pattern they could discern. Weather anchors used the word drought, but drought implied that drought could end; it was a passing event, not the status quo.

Water’s a commodity we take for granted. Imagine if it cost more than fuel? Imagine if your town was completely cut off from the life-giving pipes because it didn’t have rights to the river that flowed downstream to cities with more money, more power?

The Water Knife is set in south west America following who knows how many years of drought. I found it particularly topical reading it in California, a state currently experiencing a drought. You don’t notice much other than lots of signs asking you to conserve water, but we spoke to a lady at a winery who said they’ve got about a year of living normally. If they don’t get the rain (or snowfall) by then, they’ll have to start changing how they use water. Although California appear to be one of the bad guys in this book.

It’s a sad state of affairs to find it so believable that a few companies would hog the water, use it to turn a profit, fight each other for the rights to it. If not water companies, then those who build contained cities, where water is recycled within and kept plentiful, but only for those with the money to pay the high price tag. Las Vegas, always portrayed as a city of indulgence, is no different here. They are at the top of the water hierarchy and ensure their casinos can keep their fully flowing fountains.

Sweat was a body’s history, compressed into jewels, beaded on the brow, staining shirts with salt.

The main male character wasn’t very developed, and whilst he gets shot at a bit, that’s nothing compared to the horrors the two main female characters have to go through. The women are more rounded characters, and in a very violent world it’s naïve to imagine that violence towards women has got better. When people are on the brink of survival, they so often turn to crime and violence. However I found it hard to fathom that someone, after surviving bad torture, would want to have sex with someone they barely knew, the same day. And it was a pretty cringey sex scene too.

The character of Angel is what let this book down for me. I could accept the violence due to circumstance, even if it isn’t to my taste. The ideas behind it were thought-provoking and so scarily could be real and I thought the world-building was excellent. But it’s kind of ruined by some man with zero personality, and apparently a callous water knife, running round suddenly going a bit soft and saving women.

Angel doesn’t have faith in humanity. People have always done horrific things to each other, they always will. Maybe he’s seen too much. He contrasts with Lucy who holds out for a better life. She stays in Phoenix reporting when she could move to a life of comfort with her sister in Canada. But instead, she holds on for something that will help the city.

Young Maria was an interesting character. It took me a while to realise she was just a teenager, she lives in such a tough world, she keeps striving to do better, to not get dragged down to the levels of her friends. She had to move from Texas, a state whose residents have gained refugee status, and lost her parents. There are some absolutely heart-breaking moments throughout the book, so much so I completely forgive her for her final decision.

The Water Knife is published by Orbit and is available now in hardback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.