Phasma is brutal, cruel, and a skilled tactician.
Star Wars: Phasma is the most recent original “adult” full-length novel that has been released (released in September of 2017). The other novels that have been released recently were short story compilations (Canto Bight and From a Certain Point of View), novels geared towards young adults (mainly Leia: Princess of Alderaan and The Adventures of Luke Skywalker), or the novelization of the recent The Last Jedi (released this week). The next novel that fits these criteria to be released (original, adult, full-length novel) is Last Shot, which is tied to the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story movie.
Phasma was released as part of the Journey to The Last Jedi build up that happened late last year and is Delilah Dawson’s first Star Wars novel. Dawson had forayed in the canon previously though, with the short-story ebook, A Perfect Weapon. Since there were a bunch of books released on the same day for The Last Jedi push, Phasma ended up being released on the same day as the phenomenal Leia: Princess of Alderaan. So, was Phasma as good a book as Leia was?
Phasma takes place over a span of time. The majority of the book takes place split between two time periods — sometime shortly before The Force Awakens and 10 years prior to that point in time. The book deals with the spy, Vi Moradi, who had been captured by a First Order trooper by the name of Captain Cardinal. Cardinal, like Captain Phasma, has non-traditional trooper gear, where his is all decked out in red. He captured Vi, because he knew that she was looking into Phasma’s past and hoped that he could obtain some information on Phasma in order to disgrace her from the First Order and regain the power which she had taken from him. His primary goal though was to hopefully prevent her from doing whatever harm to the First Order that she may cause.
The majority of Phasma’s backstory is told by the spy Vi, as it was told to her by Siv, a companion of Phasma’s from her home planet of Parnassos. Parnassos was a dying world, where all of the settled groups of people are at war with one another and there is no life of comfort to be had. Each settlement turns out to be worse than the last one. Not that any of them are really aware of what the rest of the planet has, where each group is isolated to their corner of the planet.
The story of Phasma really kicks off when Brendol Hux, the man in charge of the First Order’s child indoctrination program, crash lands on Parnassos. His escape pod lands near Phasma’s colony, which happens to be far from his ship. Hux must then trek across this wasteland of a planet in order to call for help and Phasma offers to help him, along with four of her most trusted warriors and his three remaining stormtroopers.
Before reading this novel, I had heard it referred to as a cross between Mad Max and Lord of the Flies. Having never read Lord of the Flies and only watching the first Mad Max a very long time ago, I can’t say anything about the comparisons. But what I can say is that this book deals with Phasma and Hux’s handling of one horrible situation after another.
Throughout the ordeal we see what kind of person Phasma really is. She is someone who only looks out for herself, ever, which ties in nicely with her portrayal during The Force Awakens. This novel actually ties into The Force Awakens so well that it would have been better if it had come out two years ago instead of today. But obviously that did not happen and we can only wish so hard.
The novel progresses very slowly at first and it felt like a slog to get through. I wasn’t overly interested in the characters and the landscape was just a continual trek through the desert. I didn’t see where it was going or why the novel was as long as it was. What else could happen?
But then things started to happen and I actually got really invested in the book. I listened to the audiobook on my commute each day and during the early parts of the book I really didn’t feel like turning it on but by about midway through I was anxious to see what happened. They ran into multiple communities, one in worse condition than the next. And although I never cared one iota for Phasma or Hux through the novel, I did care for their companions. I even cared for Vi and Cardinal, and it was their story that brought me through the book.
Dawson had a daunting task with this novel: write a background novel about unlikable characters. How does one do that? Well, for one, we get in the heads of their compatriots. We rarely actually get to see inside Phasma’s head but we get Phasma’s perspective through her closest childhood “friend,” Siv. This allows the reader to get some depth into Phasma, even though all the depth that there is to the character was there all along. She’s selfish, brutal, a great fighter, and a clever tactician. At the end of the novel I still don’t like her, nor even really care about her. But I like everyone else and I am concerned about what happens to all of them.
The beginning of the story flip-flopped between the early history of Phasma and the current time with Vi and Cardinal fairly frequently. Too frequently, actually — between the trip through the desert and the frequent flip-flopping, it was getting to be a drain. But as the story started to pick up, the narrative slowed down on the switching and it became easier to enjoy the ride.
Easily the best parts of Phasma deal with the planet itself. Why is this place so harsh to live in, and why does it seem to get worse and worse over time? Why is everyone we meet starving? All of that is tied to their quest for Hux’s ship. Everything is tied together so neatly that it’s pretty fantastic. This goes to show you the skill that Dawson has in weaving intricate stories and tying up plot threads so that nothing is left dangling.
The audiobook version of the story is fantastic as usual. I haven’t found a poorly done Star Wars audiobook yet and this one is no exception. I love the quality that is placed in the story. Characters that are wearing “buckets” have their voices modulated appropriately, the different characters sound great, and Phasma’s voice is spot on. The audiobook is read by January LaVoy, who I had not listed to before, besides on the Shakespeare’s Star Wars audio dramas, but I would love to hear some more by her.
Overall, the story is good to great. It really picks up speed towards the latter half and I really got into it. The writing style is a bit rough for me though. Several phrases are repeated throughout the story that don’t need to be repeated. I feel this could have used a couple of more passes through an editor to smooth out the wrinkles, but it’s not too bad. I would be greatly interested to see what she can write as she hones her skills. Her story construction is spot on and I feel that Phasma is an intricately constructed story that really pays off in the end.