Delilah S. Dawson has been handed one of the most unenviable tasks in modern tie in fiction. Captain Phasma’s appearance in The Force Awakens was classic Star Wars; a visually iconic character with minimal backstory whose appearance is a dream for cosplayers and fans everywhere. Phasma, from her cut glass accent to her intimidating walk, is one of the most iconic elements of the new Star Wars movies. She’s a character people are crying out to see more of.
How do you do that and make it work?
Dawson’s solution is two fold, and massively clever. She uses a framing narrative that sees Cardinal, Phasma’s rival, capture a Resistance agent and interrogate her for the truth about his opponent. As the interrogation begins, Cardinal begins to question his own loyalties even as he discovers just how pure, and relentless, Phasma is.
The real stroke of genius here though is how Dawson explores Phasma’s past and uses it to tell a larger story. Phasma’s life began on a hellish world amid a scrappy tribe of survivors. She wants more. She will and does repeatedly kill to get it. Until the day a First Order spacecraft falls out of the sky.
Dawson does three vital things with this setting. The first is set Phasma as a survivor and provide context for her ruthlessness. The second is provide historical context for it, given her world was effectively abandoned by the New Republic. The third, and most interesting, is to offer forgiveness for what Phasma does. It’s hard not to imagine doing something similar in her place. It’s even harder to imagine any other character surviving. Dawson even neatly folds in some subtle horror elements as the true nature of Phasma’s homeworld becomes apparent. This is not a kind part of the Star Wars universe and the reasons for that are unusual for Star Wars, but oddly familiar for readers.
Outside this excellent setting and character work there’s a lot to praise too. Dawson takes advantage of the novel format to give some welcome humanity to a team of First Order soldiers. She also sets up a possible sequel (But don’t worry you get full closure here) and gives us a look at the insidious psychological machinery of the First Order and how it differs from the Empire. It’s heady, fast paced stuff that’s idea heavy, brutal when needed and never fails to hold your attention. A highlight of the Star Wars novels to date and a must-read for fans.