This review will contain spoilers of the Phasma novel
It took me somewhat longer than expected, but this morning I finally finished reading Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson. The novel is a staggering tale of survival that takes on the journey of the rise of the First Order’s most notoriously ruthless Stormtrooper, Captain Phasma. Being a story set between Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII, I was extremely excited to get my hands on it, as I’m always squabbling to get any sense of the state of the galaxy as it stands in the new trilogy. While the book does give me a little of that, it primarily lays the groundwork for Phasma’s upbringing on the unforgiving dying planet of Parnassos.
The book rides on the impetus of a man named Cardinal, once the First Order’s top Stormtrooper, until dethroned by the arrival of the mysterious Captain Phasma. Much like movie watchers who were awe’d in The Force Awakens by the tall, woman Stormtrooper with resplendent armor, no one, even among members of the First Order knows anything about her. Very few have even seen her face. But there is one, a woman of the Resistance (Vi Moradi), who had been to Parnassos and knows Phasma’s entire story. When she’s captured by Cardinal and hauled off to a secret interrogation room, he demands information concerning Phasma that he can use to blackmail her. It is from here that the story is told, from the vantage of the Parnassos native, and bandmate of Phasma’s, Siv.
Delilah’s skill for setting is uncanny. From the first few chapters, she paints a stunning pictorial of an irradiated world choked of life, and a band of folk, called the Scyre who have no choice but to take on the challenge of its harsh conditions. Their lifestyle proves to be both tribal and spiritual in nature, among the people do well to follow their chosen leaders without question. This system of order and respect is what affords them the fortune of living on. The worldbuilding, with respect to culture, wildlife, conditions, and history is arguably what best creates such a rich storytelling experience in Phasma.
As the story goes on, the one undeniable trait that readers can draw from Phasma’s character is ruthlessness. There is a callousness in her that stays with her character and becomes more apparent the further that the story moves on. It can be disorienting sometimes, to read a book that features a main character who sits on the opposite side of one’s moral compass. There are often times when we are searching for moments of humanity or kindness. With Phasma there are very few if any. The scant moments where she does seem to care, we find out that those actions were only in the end, to meet her needs. The woman starts the book seeming to lead a people, and ends with what is essentially only her, using any means necessary to rise and dismantling any obstacles in her way. Coupled with her skill and brutality in battle, there is little question as to how she stands out among the others in her ranks.
While the tale is about Phasma, every other character seems to have more life, which is not a fault of the author’s but rather a mixture of it being in Phasma’s nature to be so demure, and the fact that the story is largely being told from a secondhand source. Still, we come to love characters like Siv and Torben, and hate characters like Brendol Hux, as we will should. But the characters are established well in their own right. I recall Brendol being far more of a blubbering fool among the last members of the Empire in the Aftermath novels, but here we get a sense of just why this old out of shape oaf is a such a high ranking First Order officer. I also really enjoy seeing how much Siv cares for her people, which turns out to be a stark mirror to the way Phasma thinks of them. It’s a point of characterization that deepens the inks on Phasma’s image.
When it comes to Vi and Cardinal I enjoy how the dynamic of their captor/prisoner relationship develops. Each of them seems to gain a respect for the other throughout the book that ultimately, in some ways places Cardinal in the protagonist seat, outside of the Parnassos flashbacks. This is also where I begin to have a slight issue with motivation for the story at the same time. While Cardinal’s character is well written, I find it difficult to believe that a person of his status within the First Order would be so naïve and softhearted. That’s not to say that there are no members that genuinely believe that what they are doing is the right thing, but there is a certain height within the ranks that I think members would start to see and understand the corruption, and other defect or become a part of it.
Throughout the book, Cardinal has a tunnel-visioned goal of catching Phasma in some sort of a blackmail, but the entire time I couldn’t help but think that anything that Vi could tell him wouldn’t be enough. I found it somewhat baffling that he thought it would, or if he didn’t that he was so blinded by his jealousy and want for revenge against Phasma, that he’d essential go tattle on her with little to no evidence with which to accuse her with. The death of Brendol made it more believable for a time, but then, I was reminded that when he brought Vi onboard, he knew nothing about Phasma at all, so he didn’t know if he'd learn anything at all. The whole situation seemed to raise stakes that weren’t there, and his motivations seemed lacking in some way. It was also hard to believe that he caught the one person who knew anything about Phasma, who happened to learn it from one person who happened to spit out the whole story to a stranger on one trip to Parnassos. That felt a little stretched.
This was the only real issue I had, and even with those hiccups in the structure of delivery, the story itself was still fascinating to read. With this new backstory to apply to her, I see Phasma with far more deference and respect as a character. I also will not be able to watch The Force Awakens without creating a head canon that she allowed herself to be thrown in a garbage chute by Han and Finn, because after this? Blaster or not (especially with her Naboo Royal Yacht armor) there was no way they had a chance against her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am happy to have added to my Star Wars collection. I’d like to thank Delilah several times over for the awesome work she’s written into the universe, and for signing my copy of Phasma at DragonCon. I highly recommend this read to anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet. May the force be with you!