Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: The Girl who Played with Fire

Author: Stieg Larsson
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Pages: 471
Warnings: References to violence and prostitution, graphic descriptions of dead bodies
Series: 2/3 in the Millennium Trilogy
Rating: 3.5/5

This book picks up almost two years after "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (18 months later to be exact, and I know that because it was repeated like 5 times). After a brief interlude in the Caribbean, Lisbeth Salander is accused of killing several people. The first half of the story leaves you in complete suspense about whether or not she committed murder, and the second half has of several major revelations that clarify her relationship to the murders in the beginning of the book.

Compared to the previous book in the series, which took place decades after the mystery being investigated, Stieg Larsson's second book is... just as slow paced. I was surprised at how plodding the story was, considering it was during an active police investigation. I was expecting a lot more action, and I did not get it until the last 20 pages so be prepared for that. The pace makes sense when you consider Larsson likes to describe obscure details about scenes. For instance, when Lisbeth was buying apartment furniture I was lucky enough to read exactly which model of kitchen tables, chairs and bed-stands she bought. This emphasis on minutiae isn't all bad though, because I thought it lent an intimacy to my relationship with the characters. I mean, your friends will tell you what type of bed-stands they buy too.

Good news to anyone who made it through the first book but was bothered by the violence: there is much less in this book! I get the feeling Larsson is creating a feminist theme for each of his books. The first in the trilogy was about physical violence and the theme of this one was unconscious bias/prejudice. Basically there were a lot of assholes in this book. Two prominent characters, one from Milton Security and one from the police force, were almost comically homophobic and sexist; most of the background cast was at worst mildly prejudiced. Since every women in the world has faced at least one such asshole, this form of discrimination was much easier to stomach.

Other awesome news: Lisbeth Salander is still kicking ass! This book was much more focused on her actions and her past, which is the primary reason I loved it. It was lovely to see characters come out of the woodwork to defend and support her. There can always be more badass women.

While Larsson's style of writing is not my favorite, for the reason mentioned, I think he has great skill creating realistic and likable characters.  This is where that overuse of detail comes into play. When I learn exactly what's in Lisbeth Salander's satchel (which happens at one point), the mundane details make her more realistic. Larsson portrays his characters like he's a little embarrassed to let us see their private lives, which feels so natural that you relate to them more like an actual human being, not a plot device.

Just like the previous book, the plot is focused more on the motivations behind the murders than on the murder part. Just like the previous book, interesting things happen, but they are all packed in the last hundred or so pages. Again Lisbeth Salander is freaking fantastic and Michael Blomkvist is mediocre. If you liked the first book for these reasons, you'll like this book. If you liked Salander more than Blomkvist, you'll like this book even more!

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