Audiobook Review: Star Wars: Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Media Tie-In
Series: Star Wars Canon
Publisher: Random House Audio (September 1, 2017)
Length: 12 hrs and 14 mins
Narrator: January LaVoy
Billed as the secret history behind the First Order’s most notorious and ruthless Stormtrooper, Star Wars: Phasma was released to great anticipation from fans who wanted to learn more about the eponymous character whose chrome-plated presence was woefully underutilized in The Force Awakens. This being a Star Wars novel though, and knowing how they always tend to oversell the reality in their blurbs, I’d already braced myself not to expect too much, which turned out to be a wise decision. Basically, what we have here is an origin backstory for Phasma—or at least as close to one as we’re going to get anyway, coming from a third-hand retelling. However, if you’re coming to this novel hoping to find out more about her personality or discover what makes her tick, then be prepared for disappointment because this book is completely devoid of any kind of real characterization.
Star Wars: Phasma begins with an introduction to Resistance spy Vi Moradi, who will be the one actually telling this story. While running a mission for General Leia Organa, Vi is captured by the First Order and is immediately held for questioning at the hands of the red-armored trooper known as Captain Cardinal, who already seems to know a lot about his prisoner. But the Resistance knows about Cardinal too, especially of the bitter antagonism between him and his colleague Captain Phasma, so it’s no surprise to Vi when the first thing her captor asks her is for more information about his greatest rival. After all, Vi’s ship’s log show that she has just come from the desolate planet of Parnassos, Phasma’s home world, and Cardinal is hoping the Resistance smuggler’s eidetic memory will hold some incriminating evidence about his enemy so he can use it to take her down.
So Vi indulges Cardinal by telling him a story, heard second hand from a friend named Siv who grew up in the same clan with Phasma herself. In the beginning, Phasma and her brother Keldo were co-leaders of the Scyre, deciding that adopting an isolationist strategy will be their clan’s best chance at survival in the harsh conditions of Parnassos. However, that was before General Brendol Hux’s ship fell from the sky. Along with Siv and a few other of her warriors, Phasma rescues the stranded Hux and his escort of Stormtroopers, and after interacting with them she discovers that there’s a whole galaxy beyond the confines of her dying world. Understanding that the First Order General can help her learn more—and to become more—the ambitious Phasma agrees to guide him across the merciless desert, in exchange for passage off-planet once they reach the pickup point. But plenty of dangers lurk beneath the Parnassian sands, and before long the expedition is beset with all kinds of problems.
The result is a Mad Max-like adventure that takes up the majority of the pages in this novel, and it’s a perfectly decent, action-oriented story if that was all you were expecting. For those expecting a more in-depth character study, however, you’re going to be out of luck. As I mentioned before, this is Phasma’s history told through not just one but two intermediaries—good for preserving the mystique behind this enigmatic character, I suppose, but not so good when it comes to letting readers understand her. This was essentially a play-by-play of how Phasma went from being the best warrior of a small clan on some insignificant backwater planet to become head trainer and leader of all the First Order’s military troopers, making her one of the most powerful and infamous figures in the galaxy. On the other hand, almost nothing can be gleaned about her character on a deeper level, or how she became the cold-hearted and ruthless soldier that she is. We’re simply to accept that she’s always been an evil badass, even when she was just a young girl.
Furthermore, I feel that the characterization might have suffered a little from the writing. While I find Delilah S. Dawson’s prose well-suited to urban fantasy and YA, for a Star Wars novel such as this, her style might just be a tad overwrought and excessive. Her depictions of the characters are also rather two-dimensional and uninspired; from Vi and Cardinal to Brendol Hux to Phasma, everyone’s motivations are predictable and can be summed up in a handful of words.
That said, overall I wouldn’t say this book was too bad, considering it’s the author’s first full-length Star Wars novel. Phasma is still far from being in the same league as, say, Claudia Gray’s brilliant Lost Stars or Bloodline, but it’s a start, and if nothing else, I’m glad that the shiny Stormtrooper captain is finally getting some much needed attention in the lead up to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Audiobook Comments: I love January LaVoy and it’s always a pleasure to listen to her narrate a Star Wars novel. As usual, she delivered a great performance, and even sounded a lot like Gwendoline Christie whenever she had to say Phasma’s lines, which impressed me a lot. I would never not recommend a Star Wars audiobook!