Every now and then, a book comes along when you least expect it, sneaking up on you quietly before absolutely blowing your mind. Phasma by Delilah S Dawson did that to me. I was expecting to like Phasma (I mean, it’s a Star Wars book – what’s not to like?!), a book about a mysterious, little known but already iconic villain whilst offering a peek behind the closed doors of the First Order. I wasn’t however expecting to love it. I wasn’t expecting to still be thinking about it weeks after I’ve finished it. And I certainly wasn’t expecting it to smash it’s way into becoming my favourite book of the new canon, and one of my favourite Star Wars books of all time! I will try and articulate why below!
Phasma is a very different Star Wars book and actually very different to anything I have ever read before. It is all told pretty much from the point of view of Vi Moradi, a resistance spy who has been captured and is being tortured for information on the eponymous Phasma. We have chapters with Vi when she is being tortured on the First Order Star Destroyer – the Absolution, and we also have chapters where Vi is telling us what she has been told about Phasma, seen through the eyes of an old childhood friend, Siv. This method of storytelling isn’t something I’ve come across before and it was extremely fun and interesting to read.
Dawson’s writing is crisp and to the point whilst still managing to be extremely visual. I had a vivid picture of Parnassos in my head and found I could picture the wild and inhospitable landscape perfectly. One of my favourite descriptions of the harsh mountains of the planet was this one – “…the mountains of Parnassos are like the claws of some great and unforgiving animal…” a line which perfectly encapsulates the bleak and hostile world on which Phasma grew up. This constant battle for survival on Parnassos defines the woman who Phasma will go on to be – a fighter and a survivor. Parnassos itself was a great setting and it was refreshing to read about a fringe planet, so very far from the glitz and glamour of Coruscant! Dawson did an amazing job of evoking the desolate and desperate lives of the inhabitants of the planet and it was fascinating to to learn how our chrome-armoured First Order Captain rose from such humble origins.
We spend next to no time actually inside Phasma’s head, so if you were expecting to really get under her skin then you might be slightly disappointed with this book. I personally loved this tactic of only ever seeing Phasma through the people who knew her best – if they ever really did know her at all. We gradually learn of how she has attained such a fearsome reputation, one gained through years of clawing her way to the top. You can’t help but admire her grit after reading this book, yet by holding something back, Dawson still retains that air of mystery around Phasma which I think works well with a character like her.
Something Phasma said in this book really resonated with me. When arguing with Brendol Hux (more on him below!) she said “…like we have a choice to be anything but we are…”. At first you might think this as a negative, like we can never change who we are. But it struck me as something really quite empowering. Phasma never apologises for who she is – and why should she? Phasma is always true to herself, yes maybe not to anyone else, but she completely owns who she is and I have a lot of respect for that. She seems to embrace her flaws wholly as a part of who she is. She puts herself first and, as someone who personally could really use some of Phasma’s self-confidence, I found this really quite admirable! She doesn’t ever have an existential crisis, she knows what she is and she is hell-bent on getting the absolute best she can out of life, even with the crappy hand she initially got dealt with. Kudos Phasma.
Turning now to Brendol Hux – I thought he was a brilliant character! He is despicable and profoundly unlikeable, but that’s the point. Dawson makes her readers thoroughly enjoy despising Hux. His cleverness and ruthless cunning were extremely fun to see in action and I found myself eagerly anticipating how he was going to plot his way out of the various messy situations they find themselves in throughout the book. You also get treated to a rare glimpse of his son, Armitage Hux, and start to understand a little bit about why this young man was so capable of pulling the trigger on Starkiller Base.
For me personally, there was nothing I disliked about this book. However, in an attempt to be slightly unbiased, the only thing I will say is to reiterate the point I made earlier. If you are looking to read a book from Phasma’s point of view, to hear thoughts running through her head then you will be disappointed with this book. BUT, like I said, I think holding back on Phasma’s point of view and showing her through the eyes of people close to her is actually a wonderful decision. You still get very close to Phasma in this book. Siv is possibly the closest thing Phasma had to a friend, or sister-in-arms so to speak, and so knows her better than most. She certainly witnessed a lot which gives us a great deal of insight into what makes Phasma tick.
Overall – a seriously fun, bloody and action-packed book which also manages to be a moving and poignant account of the making of a monster. I highly, highly recommend. Now, TTFN, I’m off to cry about Phasma some more…..without removing my helmet of course!
Rating – 5 out of 5 Death Stars!