Don’t ever fight with Lisbeth Salander. Her attitude towards the rest of the world is that if someone threatens her with a gun, she’ll get a bigger gun.

Lisbeth Salander, the angry punk hacker in Stieg Larsson’s 2008 bestseller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is back with a vengeance in The Girl who Played with Fire. While she has a more central role this time around, she is less a detective than a quarry. This is because she has become the chief suspect in three murders. Pursued by the police and enemies from her past, she goes underground. Meanwhile, Blomkvist, who is one of the few people who believe in her innocence, races to track her down.

The first book was, by and large, plot-driven. The 40-year-old mystery took its own sweet time to unfold, but was worth the wait when it finally did. The same may be said about Lisbeth’s character, even though she was never quite in the limelight. That’s what sets The Girl who Played with Fire apart from its prequel. The story has now become noticeably character-driven with Lisbeth as the undisputed protagonist. With an entirely different mood, pace and atmosphere as compared to its predecessor, this book is single-handedly propelled by the strength of a single character.

Salander was the woman who hated men who hate women.

However, do not let the focus on Lisbeth fool you. Essentially, this book should have been titled Men who Hate Women, Part II (Men who Hate Women was the original title of the first Swedish book). The plot subtly deals with subjects that are anything but subtle. And yet again, Larsson determinedly exposes the unlikable and less-talked-about aspects of our society – misogyny, and the adherence to judgmental standards and gender norms that are ever-present even in the European paradise of Sweden.

An excerpt about Lisbeth Salander from The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Steig Larsson

The Girl who Played with Fire blatantly lacks the sexual and romantic tension that helped the Dragon Tattoo captivate its readers. That said, it boasts of an intricate, labyrinthine storyline that attests to Larsson’s improved plotting abilities. This storyline invariably keeps moving back to Salander’s traumatic past, even as it accelerates toward its startling and violent confusion. Readers get some useful insights into the horrific backstory that led to Salander developing her unique, defensive and prickly personality.

The book is packed with thrills, well-defined characters, intriguing details and unexpected plot revelations. Even as Larsson as juggling with multiple threads, the pace never lets up; the emotions are intense throughout and there are no boring moments. This is because the author, à la J.K. Rowling, keeps giving away tidbits of details to keep the readers engaged.

Dear Government… I’m going to have a serious talk with you if I ever find anyone to talk to.

However, an inevitable downside of any posthumous work of fiction is that the author is denied second thoughts and an opportunity for editorial revision. The tediousness of every minute detail and the never-ending parade of brand names make it seem as though the entire IKEA catalog is in for a special appearance. This diary-like filler could have been easily left out, making the book much sharper. But then again, Larsson’s skill partly lies in his patience. Notwithstanding the voluminous nature of the book, he constructs the plot without ever overdoing the melodrama. Like with most crime novels, there are a few implausible and inexplicable coincidences, but Larsson engages us with his characters so adeptly that it takes a very discerning reader to take note of this flaw.

Ameya Rating:

The ending of the The Girl who Played with Fire comes straight out of a horror movie. It is gory, harrowing and slightly exaggerated. Meriting a respectable score of 3.4 stars out of 5, the book’s two central characters, Salander and Blomkvist, transcend their genre in style. Their oddball personalities, professional competence and, surprisingly, emotional vulnerability endear them to the readers. While highly recommended to people of all age groups, parental guidance is recommended for teenage readers for obvious reasons.

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