Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson


This is the second book in the notorious Millennium trilogy, written by Steig Larsson. The book was originally written in Swedish and was published in 2006 - it was translated into English and published in 2009. This sequel was also adapted into a film in 2010, which took just less than half a million pounds in its opening weekend in the UK alone. According to 'The Bookseller' magazine, 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' is apparently the first and only book which has been translated into English to reach number 1 in the UK hardback charts. It's easy to see why this book is so popular...

Larsson had just delivered his manuscripts for his three books to the publishers in 2004, when he tragically and suddenly died aged just 50. He never saw his books published, and never knew of their worldwide popularity. However, we do know from his life-long partner Eva Gabrielsson that Larsson regarded writing as a relaxation method, through which he could follow up mysteries and conspiracies without putting himself or Eva in danger...fans of his can take solace in the fact that he died after completing something he loved doing!

Interestingly, the original Swedish title of this book translates as the same as the English title - 'The Girl Who Played With Fire', whereas for the first book the Swedish and English titles are completely different (see my review on the first book, dated 24/06/2011). Perhaps it was this book, which is widely seen as being more successful than the first, which gave the publishers the inspiration to create the brand that is the Millennium Trilogy.

---The Plot---

Mikael Blomkvist has returned to Millennium magazine, and is working with journalist Dag Svensson and his partner, PhD student Mia Johansson on a massive project to expose some big names in the world of sex trafficking. But when Svensson and Johansson are found shot in their apartment, a murder hunt gets underway.

At the same time, the social outcast that is Lisbeth Salander has been trying to create some stability in her life, after a year of travelling, and several years prior to that of rather dodgy enterprises. But when it's her fingerprints on the gun that killed Svensson and Johansson, she shoots straight to the top of the suspects list (excuse the pun). The problem is that she can't be found or contacted for love nor money.

Blomkvist has worked with Salander before, and is convinced that she's innocent, so sets out to help Salander clear her name. But with Salander hiding from the police, and all the evidence stacked against her, is she really innocent?

---The Verdict: To Read Or Not To Read?---

When I read this book, throughout most of it I found myself comparing it to its predecessor. As a result, I made two clear comparisons between the two, simply comparing the first hundred pages or so, like for like. Firstly, I found that the first book was a lot slower in getting started, whilst 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' threw you straight into the thick of things, with lots of excitement and intrigue straight from the off. On the other hand, my second observation was that the actual mystery - the content of the story, so to speak - was quite slow to get off the ground in this book, although it started much earlier in the first book. So, in a nutshell: 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' offers a slower build-up of excitement although a quicker start to the story; 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' sees the actual story start more gently, but he excitement's there straight away.

So, carrying along with the idea of the thrill of the ride, 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' has it in bucket loads. The writing is pacy - much more so than in the first book of the trilogy, and found that it really is a page-turner.
However, despite all my comparisons, this could be a stand-alone book in its own right. During the first chapter or two, Larsson outlines the plot and the key character attributes from the first book - having already read it, I immediately understood what he meant and it acted as a good reminder for me, but if this had been my first venture into the Millennium books I would have been provided with enough information to understand the basics of the characters and their pasts.

Nevertheless, there were other things mentioned in 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' which referred back to the plot of the first book. For example, the Wennerström affair was briefly touched upon: it plays a big part in the first book, and if I hadn't known that, the reference would have gone straight over my head. It seems to me that you don't need to have read the first book first, but it might help from time to time!

On to the characters...

Mikael Blomkvist is as hard-working, focused and loyal as ever, and Salander is her usual 'under-the-radar' self. In fact, for the majority of the book Salander isn't involved, which is surprising considering the whole book focuses around her. It is a clever technique on Larsson's part to do this, though, as in a way it gives a sense of what it must have been like for Blomkvist and the police. I often found myself thinking: 'Come on Lisbeth, give us your side of the story, I want to know what you're getting up to!', probably in a similar way to many of the characters. For a lot of the time she's a very distant character in this book, but when she comes out of the woodwork she does it in style. Action scenes abound, as Salander brings this book to life.

I won't comment on Blomkvist or any of the other characters which appeared in 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo', as they're much the same in both books. Wouldn't want to repeat myself, and all that...

I mentioned in my review of the first book that I was worried about getting confused from the Swedish names, but it didn't really end up being a problem. In this book, however, it was a bit more confusing as a lot of the names were quite similar to each other. Svensson, Johansson, and Eriksson, not to mention Blomkvist, Berger, Bjurman and Bjork, were all names which had me carefully think and sort out who was who. With a bit of thought it's possible to remind yourself which name corresponds with which character as within their own contexts you can figure it out - it's just that I don't always want to be getting confused over the characters in a book, as it's always better to read it smoothly and easily with no confusion at all. This was the one factor which I felt really let the book down, and I was considering knocking off a star for it...but when the book as a whole is better than the first book, I couldn't really do that now could I?!

Finally, the ending to the book is quite something in itself. Don't worry, I'm not about to give anything away! All I'll say is that it ended in some ways a bit abruptly, and wasn't rounded off as completely as it could have been. Although I would see this as a disadvantage under normal circumstances, I don't in this case as the third and final book in the series carries on from where this one left off. 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest' not only rounds off the trilogy, but it rounds off the story of 'The Girl Who Played With Fire', too!

As I say, this book is, in my opinion, better than 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'. The plot and storyline are exciting, thrilling and intriguing, and had me guessing right until the very end. I found it nail-biting reading and finished the book in a matter of days. Once again, it's the characters that really make this story as they're so credible and easy to understand that they're a joy to follow. I went on to start the 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest' with unabated anticipation!

---Last Thoughts---

If you're still not sure, please don't just take my word for it. During my research for the 'Background' section of this review I found that many critics also expressed their opinions that the second book in the Millennium series was better and more enjoyable than the first. We can't all be wrong...!

Once again, if you're given the choice between the book and the film I'd recommend reading the book. I haven't seen the film, but at any rate if you read the book first, you can see how you enjoy it and make your own mind up about whether or not the film would ruin the magic of the book, as I fear it would.

A paperback copy of 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' is currently available to buy for £4.49 from Amazon, or a Kindle copy can be bought for the slightly lower price of £4.27. To me, this seems well worth it and I'd thoroughly recommend buying it, especially for such a good price!

Just to let you know, I won't be reviewing the third book in the series, 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest'. Although I have read it, I didn't enjoy it as much as the first two books in the series and wouldn't recommend it as strongly.

I used the following websites for reference, and to gather some information included in the 'Background' section:

Summary: Even better than 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'!
Rating: 5/5 :) I'd give it more if I could!


  1. It seems as though Stieg Larsson really put a lot, if not all, of his passion into these books, and I think your reviews highlight that very passion. As for the names, I can see why that would get confusing as the book progresses. I've read translated works before from Japanese writers, and sometimes I'll find myself glossing over characters' names because they're just so unfamiliar to me and similar to each other.

    I'm curious though what made the third book less appealing to you than the first two. It would be a pity if the series petered out in the third book after such a strong beginning and middle.

  2. I agree that Larsson clearly put a huge amount of passion into these books - the level of detail in them just goes to show how much research, etc. that he must have done whilst writing. And yes, a few days ago I pondered over whether or not to try something Japanese but the thought of the confusing names put me off!

    If I'm honest, I can't remember exactly what put me off the third book as it was a few months ago that I actually read it. It was the fact that I didn't really enjoy it that meant I didn't feel I could write a review on it! (However, I may re-read it soon so if I do I'll jot down my thoughts on it). If I remember correctly, I thought it was very drawn out a lot of the time, and I seem to remember it was even more confusing. I probably would have given it around 3/5. As you say, it was a disappointing end to the series, but I'm still glad I read it - it finished off the story of 'The Girl Who Played With Fire', if nothing else!

  3. Larsson might have tried to tackle too much detail in one book, which led to a slightly lesser book than his previous ones. The end to sequels seem to be like that; a good start, an even better middle, and then it sort of dies at the end because there's too much stuff going on and too much stuff to wrap up.


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