Phasma reveals the history of the mysterious enforcer of the First Order. Dennis has the review.
Phasma is the recent novel written by Delilah S. Dawson (The Perfect Weapon) exploring the mysterious chrome armored captain of the First Order. Set in the era preceding The Force Awakens, this book tells the story of how the First Order discovered Phasma on a remote world and recruited her.
Review without Major Plot Revelations
A resistance operative, Vi Moradi, relates much of this story to a First Order officer, Captain Cardinal, and rival of Phasma’s. Cardinal’s aim is to discredit Phasma, and he knows Moradi has the information he needs to accomplish his goal. Therefore, he secretly interrogates Moradi, and she relates a story to him learned on Phasma’s home world of Parnassos. Moradi gives Cardinal valuable insights into Phasma, however, he must still determine what to do with Phasma’s secrets.
Although set in the Star Wars galaxy, Phasma blends genres. In some regards, this is a post-apocalyptic adventure story. In addition, the stories of Dune appear to have influenced some details of this novel. Plus, there is a little Mad Max thrown in for good measure. However, Dawson collects her influences and combines them into a story that is very much Star Wars by the book’s conclusion.
This story has an interesting framework. Moradi actually tells Cardinal Phasma’s story as related by one of Phasma’s clanmate, a lady named Siv. Remarkably, Moradi tells the story with incredible detail. Just when Cardinal notices and calls Moradi on this, the Resistance spy states that the storyteller has license in filling those details. Moradi’s story and the subsequent events say much about Phasma and the First Order overall. In addition, this story is as much Siv’s story as it is Phasma’s, and Cardinal even points that out during the telling.
Phasma is an interesting read. The story may bog down for some after the first couple of chapters, but those that stick with the story will be rewarded in the concluding portion of the novel. This book is recommend for those interested in Phasma and the structure of the First Order, or for those looking for a Star Wars novel that strays far from the core themes of the Force and Jedi exploits.
Plot Specific Discussion
The following portion of this review will reveal some plot points.
Phasma is an experiment in Star Wars writing. Instead of providing a traditional Star Wars story set on a familiar planet, Dawson explores a character shrouded in mystique by taking her to a more primitive, post-apocalyptic world. In addition, Phasma’s story is largely told through the eyes of others. Despite the revelations of her past, Phasma maintains some of her mystique. Phasma paints a portrait of a warrior that is ruthless, cunning, and fearless.
The Narrative and Style
Phasma’s narrative style is interesting and it contributes much to Phasma’s portrayal. As previously discussed, Moradi tells the Phasma story from the perspective for Siv, one of Phasma’s clansmen. The reader may forget this from time-to-time as the story slips into third person. However, the reader is wrenched out of the story when Moradi speculates what Siv must have felt during certain experiences. In addition, the moments of the story occurring in the “present” are told in present tense. Although it helps distinguish the stories of the past from the present action, the voice is a little uneven.
Regardless, much of Phasma’s story is hearsay. Moradi relates Siv’s thoughts and experiences to Phasma. At times, this infuriates him, because Moradi is telling him Siv’s story as much as she is telling him Phasma’s story. Perhaps, it is more accurate to say Moradi is telling the story of the Scyre, Phasma’s clan, and that of Parnassos. It just so happens that story has something interesting to say about Phasma.
It also makes sense that Moradi relates the story in this fashion. After all, she believes Cardinal is a good man. In fact, she wants him to defect to the Resistance. Therefore, she paints a picture of the evil acts of Phasma and the First Order hoping to convince him.
The Post-Apocalyptic Influences
It is difficult to say exactly what influences Dawson drew upon in writing Phasma, but I recognized a few familiar elements. First, Phasma’s world of Parnassos is a post-apocalyptic planet. A century before her time, the Con Star Mining Corporation experienced a nuclear accident. The consequences of this catastrophe was the poisoning of much of Parnassos. Children are rare and treasured. The remaining people organized themselves in clans. All technology is scavenged from previous wrecks.
Films such as Terminator and Mad Max come to mind when reading Phasma. The people aren’t ignorant of technology. However, they are incapable of making it themselves. The descendants of the survivors have modified their vehicles, when they have them, with primitive decorations that highlight their clans and their ferocity.
Against this backdrop, the people of Parnassos struggle with hunger. Food is scarce. The Scyre clan reclaims the “essence” of their dead to feed the living. This practice is reminiscent of Dune and the Fremen practice of reclaiming the water from the fallen. In addition to fighting hunger, the people of Parnassos fight each other. They organized themselves into clans and they fiercely protect their territory. A warrior, such as Phasma, thrives in this environment.
First Order Propaganda
The inciting action for this novel is the arrival of Brendol Hux and the First Oder on Parnassos. Prior to the nuclear accident, Parnassos had a planetary defense system installed. Over one-hundred years after its installation, it shot down Hux’s ship. The identity of which is not revealed here, but is a fun reveal. Hux and some of his trusted stormtroopers jettisoned from the ship in an escape pod. Sensing an opportunity, Phasma and some of her Scyre warriors agree to return Hux to his ship. In exchange, Hux agrees that Phasma and her warrior may accompany him back to the First Order.
The voyage back to the ship consumes much of the novel. Along the way, Hux and Phasma and their respective soldiers converse about life on Parnassos and the existence and aims of the First Order. As expected, Hux promotes the values of the First Order. He proclaims that the First Order stands against corruption and in favor of equality for all. Hux boasts that worlds like Parnassos would benefit from the First Order’s guidance.
Despite his boasts, his actions and those of the First Order bare his claims for the lies they are. For one thing, he takes a disproportionate share of food and resources. For another, in his eyes, people are only valuable to the extent they might make good soldiers. The First Order fails to even extend life saving medicine to those poisoned by radiation. In the end, their actions betray their intent: the consolidation of power. In the end, the actions of Hux, his son, and Phasma prove the First Order are guilty of evils just as bad, if not worse, than the sins of the First Order.
Concluding Thoughts on Phasma
This novel proved a thought provoking read. Although the title says, “Phasma,” it is as much about Vi, Cardinal, Siv, and the inhabitants of Parnassos. Cardinal is the conscience of the First Order. He believes in their stated goals. However, he sees Phasma, and later others, as a poison infecting the whole. He therefore internally struggles with his desire to protect the children he trains and how best to remove the influence of Phasma and the like. His frustration is palpable.
Siv too has difficult choices during her journey. She wants what is best for herself and the Scyre. In addition, she believes Phasma has similar goals. However, the Scyre’s Odyssey-like voyage across the grey desert of Parnassos teaches her otherwise. Ultimately, her decision, and to some degree her fate, are out of her hands. A hero she looked up to let’s her down.
Finally, there is Phasma. In a novel where all the characters change, she is the only one that truly stays the same. For a warrior, she is very political. Readers discover that she learned early on in life how to determine the developing political scene among her own people. Her motivation is about escaping a dying world and making a new life for herself among the stars. Phasma’s growth, if any, is only an illusion. Phasma has a way of dispatching those that saw her face. Actually, she destroys those that know her past. It is how she moves forward.
Last, the final chapters are worth it. Delilah S. Dawson noted at Star Wars Celebration Orlando this year that when Phasma kills you, you see yourself die in her armor. That wasn’t just an idle statement.