Book Review: Phasma
by Delilah S. Dawson
I don't think I have to give an in-depth plot overview for this one. It's the origin story of Captain Phasma from the recent Star Wars movies, along with the story of Cardinal, Phasma's rival. If you're a Star Wars fan, you know who Phasma is. If you don't know anything about Star Wars, why would you even pick this up? That aside, I must first comment that I loved Captain Phasma in the movies. A badass woman in realistic armor? Of course I'm down. I consider myself quite the fan of Star Wars as a series (I have watched all the movies dozens of times, including the shows Clone Wars and Rebels, I have posters in my home, I've been to Skellig Island, I've written fan fiction that will never see the light of day) and this was not my first Star Wars book (I have to limit myself, because I get obsessed). I realize the books can be rather pulpy and the author has to limit themselves to the constraints of the EU, but as long as the story is exciting and Karen Traviss doesn't write it, I'm good.
But I was very impressed with this novel. It was a blast! I enjoyed every page of it.
It isn’t perfect. I have unanswered questions about one of the characters. There is what I perceived to be a sexual attraction between two characters while one is a captive, but it wasn't fleshed out enough to remove what I would argue is a problematic element for a novel aimed at such a broad audience (adults and kids as young as 12 could read this). And while I enjoyed the structure of the novel, it seemed awfully in-depth for a second-hand retelling. But if you suspend your disbelief and accept that Vi (and Siv’s) stories to Cardinal are embellished for our benefit, then it’s absolutely fine. Enjoy the ride.
Frankly, as much as I was enjoying the Cardinal-Vi situation in the present, Phasma’s story was the most compelling (as it should be). You're thrown onto the planet knowing nothing about it, but the lack of exposition allows for a mimetic experience, as the reader learns about the setting along with the characters. It’s a quest narrative.
I thought it was clever that the story about Phasma was not in her perspective. It retains her mysterious and aloof persona while giving her motivations to explain how she became part of the First Order. She’s vilified, as she should be, but the story shows why she is the way she is. Her actions are clearly immoral, but it’s clear she’s acting from her own sense of what’s necessary. Quite frankly, I thought she was executed perfectly.
I enjoyed the other characters too. Siv was likeable and her actions made sense. Vi was tough and provided comic relief. I cared about Gosta and Torben. Hux in the book matched Hux in the movies. The small cracks in the three Stormtrooper’s mental armor were interesting to see. And Cardinal was a well-developed character that struggled with his growing conflict with the First Order and his care for the children he teaches. His motivation regarding his hatred for Phasma and his loneliness made him sympathetic.
The story wrapped up in a way that isn’t exactly surprising but still satisfying. Overall, I absolutely loved it.