Book Review: Phasma

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It’s May Fourth, or as Star Wars fans like to call it: May the Fourth be With You. Why am I reviewing a Star Wars book on PostApoclaypticMedia?  Because Phasma by Delilah Dawson is a post-apocalyptic book!

If you’re not up on Star Wars or haven’t watched the new trilogy (#7-9), you won’t get a lot out of this, as it’s an origin story for one of the villains (Captain Phasma, played by Gwendoline Christie). 

But if you do like Star Wars, it’s a lot of fun!

The premise:

One of the most cunning and merciless officers of the First Order, Captain Phasma commands the favor of her superiors, the respect of her peers, and the terror of her enemies. But for all her renown, Phasma remains as virtually unknown as the impassive expression on her gleaming chrome helmet. Now, an adversary is bent on unearthing her mysterious origins – and exposing a secret she guards as zealously and ruthlessly as she serves her masters.

Deep inside the Battlecruiser Absolution, a captured Resistance spy endures brutal interrogation at the hands of a crimson-armored stormtrooper – Cardinal. But the information he desires has nothing to do with the Resistance or its covert operations against the First Order.

What the mysterious stormtrooper wants is Phasma’s past – and with it whatever long-buried scandal, treachery, or private demons he can wield against the hated rival who threatens his own power and privilege in the ranks of the First Order. His prisoner has what Cardinal so desperately seeks, but she won’t surrender it easily. As she wages a painstaking war of wills with her captor, bargaining for her life in exchange for every precious revelation, the spellbinding chronicle of the inscrutable Phasma unfolds. But this knowledge may prove more than just dangerous once Cardinal possesses it – and once his adversary unleashes the full measure of her fury.

The novel has two intertwining stories: that of Vi, the spy, and Cardinal, but most of the story follows Siv, a young woman who grew up with Phasma on their post-apocalyptic planet.

In truth, while it takes a bit to build momentum, overall, this book was like a Star Wars battle: a freakin blast. It’s a lot of fun, while also delving into dark topics, like murder, sedition, and torture.

It isn’t perfect. There are some unanswered questions about Vi, and while I enjoyed the structure of the novel, it seemed awfully in-depth for a second-hand retelling.

But that’s the thing. If you accept that Vi (and Siv’s) stories to Cardinal about Phasma are embellished for our, the reader’s, benefit, then it’s absolutely fine. Just don’t think that much about it. Enjoy the ride.

The Cardinal-Vi situation is interesting, but Phasma’s story overshines it greatly. The reader is thrown onto the planet knowing nothing about it, and the lack of exposition allows you to learn about it as the story progresses; you don’t even find out it’s post-apocalyptic until about a third of the way through. There are a lot of post-apocalyptic tropes, like raiders, a barren and blasted landscape, strange creatures, and struggling towns and settlements.

I also thought it was fantastic that the story was not from Phasma’s perspective; at first, I wondered how this would work, but it worked for me. It keeps Phasma as mysterious and aloof as she is in the movies while giving her a backstory that makes sense. She’s vilified, as she should be, but it shows that sometimes people are just born bad. 

I enjoyed the other characters too. Siv was likeable, and her actions made sense. I cared about two of the other characters, Gosta and Torben, General Hux makes an appearance, and small cracks in the three Stormtroopers’ mental armor were interesting to see. And then Cardinal … his character arc progressed in a rather predictable way, but his growing conflict with the First Order, his care for the children he teachers, his motivation regarding why he hates Phasma, and his loneliness made him compelling.

The story wraps up in a way that isn’t exactly surprising but still satisfying. Overall, I definitely recommend it to Star Wars fans who also love post-apocalyptic books. 

Have a happy May the Fourth! 

    T. S. Beier is obsessed with science fiction, the ruins of industry, and Fallout. She is the author of What Branches Grow, a post-apocalyptic novel (which was a Top 5 Finalist in the 2020 Kindle Book Awards and a semi-finalist in the 2021 Self-Published Science Fiction Competition) and the Burnt Ship Trilogy (space opera). She is a book reviewer, editor, and freelance writer. She currently lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, two feral children, and a Shepherd-Mastiff.

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