Y’all. Today we’re going dark. We’re diving into the heart of the First Order, into everything that makes it tick, but also into into its seedy underbelly.
Overall I found this book deeply unsettling. This may have a lot to do with the fact that the author describes the more horrific parts of the story in great detail, and some of it is outright gross, and I have a weak stomach. But that didn’t stop me from reading this one twice! Let’s dive into Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson.
*Content Warning: brief mentions of traumatic childhood and of torture*
Vi Moradi, a Resistance spy on a mission for Leia, is taken by the First Order. She is tortured and interrogated by Captain Cardinal, the trooper in charge of training young recruits, and former personal guard to the now-deceased Brendol Hux. Cardinal is looking for incriminating evidence with which to take down his rival: Captain Phasma.
Vi, having just returned from a mission to Phasma’s homeworld Parnassos, tells Cardinal all she knows. Phasma grew up in very rough circumstances on a world that was rapidly dying. Her attempts to strengthen her clan go unappreciated by the leader, her brother. When Brendol Hux’s ship crashes on Parnassos, and his shuttle separates him from the vehicle itself, she volunteers to return him to the ship in exchange for passage off.
What follows is a harrowing journey across a very dangerous desert, with Phasma and Hux in the company of three of his troopers, and a handful of her fighters, including Siv, the young woman who is Vi’s source of information. As the journey continues, Phasma and Hux form a tight bond, and her calculating ruthlessness becomes more and more apparent to those who know her best.
3 Things I Liked (and 1 I Disliked)
1. Vi Moradi and Captain Cardinal
She is the prisoner, he is the interrogator, and theirs is an interesting dynamic.
It hits the expected beats, where they are both tough at first but by the end get to know each other and understand the other a bit better. Though the dynamic in this respect is a predictable one, it’s very rare in Star Wars for two people from the warring parties to actually be in the same room long enough to explain what motivates them.
Though they’re only in half the book and are not the primary focus, they were compelling enough for me to want to return to their part of the story any time the narrative ventured to Phasma’s portion. With Phasma, we could only ever get up to where we find her in The Last Jedi, but Vi and Cardinal are the future of the movement, their roles a mystery. Both try to turn the other and I was fascinated trying to figure out who would succeed (one guess who it was)
2. The First Order
Up until now, any time we’ve gotten a look inside the First Order, it’s been from the point of view of the higher ups, those that make it run. And while Cardinal is now one of those people, he started out as a child brought into the Stormtrooper training program.
Seeing the First Order through his eyes was really grounding. Though we do (and should) dismiss them as the villains, it is interesting to see why not everybody sees them that way. It’s not that I’m trying to be a First Order apologist, I’m just always interested in seeing what it is that makes someone side with the First Order, since they rose to power far quicker than the Empire, and are arguably more brutal.
In Cardinal’s case, he came from a miserable existence on Jakku. Life was unpredictable and he was wasting away. The First Order provided him not only with stability, but with a way to thrive in the galaxy and to bring order to his chaotic existence.
Stability, then, seems to be the primary motivation for those who enlist. That is both heartbreaking and understandable, and it adds an extra layer of humanity to the faceless stormtroopers we see in the movies.
3. Hux Junior and Senior
You can blame this on twitter, you can blame this on Domhnall Gleeson’s performance, you can blame this on the fan fiction I read, you can blame this on my desire for everyone to have a redemption arc. Any reason above can be attributed to why I’ve started feeling bad for Armitage Hux.
Though the first time we see him do anything of note, he is standing in front of thousands of troopers, foaming at the mouth and shouting for all the world like a terrifying fascist, the side stories go out of their way to humanize him.
We know from other sources that he had a rough childhood and that his father really didn’t care for him and only paid attention to him when he did something that exerted power and dominance. This usually involved taking out his rage on other children. Growing up in that kind of horrible environment doesn’t make for a stable adult.
Alternatively, for those that watched Avatar: The Last Airbender: if Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is Zuko, then Armitage Hux is 100% Azula.
4. The two timelines
I had initially planned to put the one Big Gross Thing that happens in the book as my “dislike”, but it really is just one thing that happens one time, so I’m putting it down in Random Thoughts if anyone wants to know what it is. Please just know I hate it with every fibre of my being.
I know that Vi and Cardinal are two of the things I like best about the book. BUT. As Vi was telling Cardinal the story, I couldn’t help but feel how much I would have liked to hear the story from Phasma’s point of view.
In the story Vi tells, Phasma is only a teenager, about 16 or so. She somehow manages to get the entire party halfway across the planet on foot, and best a First Order general twice her age and with more experience. I’m not wondering at “how”. Star Wars teenagers are capable of so much more than us average teens could hope for.
The premise of the book interested me because I wanted to know more about the mysterious Phasma. But it almost feels like she’s as much a mystery as ever, even though I heard her entire backstory. I realize getting the story from Phasma’s point of view, and having Phasma as the narrator means it is impossible for Vi and Cardinal to exist in the story. And again, they are the future of the story. But in an entire book called “Phasma”, I never felt like I got any closer to the character. But hey, maybe that was the idea.
The Big Gross Thing is the part of the novel where one of Phasma’s fighters is bitten by a beetle. The beetle causes a person’s insides to liquefy. They swell up then explode into water, their organs shrivelled, their bones and muscles gone. Even just typing this out is giving me a headache and activating my fight-or-flight. I hated this so much, it’s just so gross.
Cardinal mentions Rae Slone to Armitage Hux, saying “if she were here”, to which Hux replies that she isn’t. But also…where the hell is she?? She isn’t in Resistance Reborn, and as far as I can tell she doesn’t come up again. Makes me wonder if I missed something somewhere.
Arratu was such a weird, interesting environment that I would have been perfectly happy if the whole novel was set there. It was so strange and dystopian.
The chrome on Phasma’s armour comes from an old ship of Palpatine’s. Just thought that was cool.
Is there a connection between Cardinal’s red armour and the red armour on the Sith Troopers, or is it just that red is cool and we can sell more toys this way?