Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, May 25, 2010
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
My rating: 4.5 stars
This is the third book in the Millennium trilogy, and I would not recommend jumping in without having read the first two books. You’d be terribly lost! So, I’m writing this review with the assumption that you HAVE read the first two books. So if you haven’t, scoot out of here before I ruin something for you … but first read the next paragraph in which I make my pitch for why these books are something special.
In the Millennium trilogy, Steig Larsson creates unique and memorable characters and crafts thrillers that are truly thrilling but also morally complex and intelligent. The theme of violence against and the exploitation of women runs throughout all three books, and Larsson doesn’t shy away from the dark side of human nature. There are multiple scenes of graphic violence that will make your stomach turn, but this ugliness is tempered by the strong moral code and sense of justice exhibited by the main characters of Mikael and Lisbeth. And Mikael and Lisbeth are what make these books so compelling and fascinating. Although at first glance, each may seem to be morally compromised by some standards (Mikael’s “womanizing” and Lisbeth’s hacking and sexual openness), I doubt you would find two characters with such clear-cut morality and drive to protect the exploited and abused. In fact, my only real complaint with the entire series is that I found the Swedish surnames and place names confusing at times. (But that certainly isn’t Larsson’s fault.) With each book, I became more enthralled with the series and the characters. In the end, I’m giving the entire series a rating of 4.5. I’m positive the series will be on my list of “best books I read in 2010.” If I find another series that draws me in as completely as this series did, I’d be surprised (but happy).
So, for those of you who haven’t started the series, be gone! The rest of you may continue on to find out the scoop on the third book, which is being released today. (I’m sure you have it on preorder or on hold at your library if you read the first two, am I right?)
Because this series is really one big interconnected story, let’s recap briefly where we are at the start of Book 3.
Book 1 (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) introduced us to Mikael Blomkvist (crusading journalist) and Lisbeth Salander (hacker extraordinaire). The book also introduces Mikael and Lisbeth to each other as they meet and team up to solve a 40-year-old murder and extricate Mikael from the mess of the Wennerstrom affair. The book ends with Lisbeth making off with Wennerstom’s millions and realizing she cannot handle her feelings for Mikael. Her response? Take off with the money and cut Mikael out of her life.
Book 2 (The Girl Who Played With Fire) provides us and Mikael with the back story on why Lisbeth is like she is. As with anything related to Lisbeth, the story is complicated and multi-layered and fraught with violence. And when her past comes back to haunt her when she is framed for a triple murder, no one but Mikael and Dragan Armansky believe she is innocent. The book focuses on the police’s hunt for Lisbeth Salander, while Lisbeth and Mikael race to uncover the conspiracy against her and find the real murderer. The book ends with Lisbeth confronting her past head on (literally!) and ending up with a bullet in her head.
So, that brings us to Book 3 (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), which opens with Lisbeth being choppered to a hospital with severe injuries, the worst of which is the bullet in her brain. Mikael then embarks on a mission with other “Idiot Knights” (those who believe in Lisbeth and work on her behalf, including Dragan Armansky and Olaf Palmgren) to redress the wrongs that have been done to Lisbeth since childhood. Naturally, this involves nothing less than uncovering a decades-long conspiracy that reaches up to the highest levels of the Swedish government.
The book is long (576 pages … but you still want more!) and stuffed to the gills with non-stop action and revelations, culminating with the trial of Lisbeth Salander in which her life is laid bare and her fate decided. Will she end up in jail? Be committed to a psychiatric facility? Escape from the authorities and vanish? Be vindicated once and for all? I’m not telling … nor would you want me to. I’ll just tell you this … Larsson puts the pedal to the metal and doesn’t let up once.
One of the revelations is a physician’s assessment that Lisbeth suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, which may account for her poor social skills and seeming lack of empathy. (Yet I would argue that she is empathetic to a degree that hurts her, and it simply manifests itself in action instead of sympathy … witness her response to Berger’s problems in this book for an example of this.) I’m not sure I buy into this though. Considering what she experienced in her childhood, I think Lisbeth’s anti-social behavior is completely explainable and understandable. I would venture to say Lisbeth demonstrates resilience and emotional intelligence far beyond those of most people. I sincerely doubt whether most people could withstand what Lisbeth did and walk away with the the self-control and ability to assess options in a logical and impartial manner. To me, Lisbeth is damaged and protecting herself the only way she knows how … by keeping her distance emotionally and socially.
Although this series has always been about Lisbeth at its core, Larsson takes time to focus on the beleaguered staff at Millennium (who are reeling from Erika Berger’s decision to depart to be the editor of a large daily paper) and gives Berger a storyline of her own that was just as compelling as anything going on with Lisbeth. (Let’s just say, Berger finds her new job to be a bit of a hostile work environment.) In addition, Mikael has a new love interest, but I personally didn’t care for this development as I kind of liked the idea of Lisbeth and Mikael someday being an item. Mikael’s sister Giannini also has an expanded role in this book, taking on the role of Lisbeth’s lawyer.
I was worried how the book would end as Larsson originally planned to write more than three books before his untimely death. However, I’m pleased to report that this book ties up the loose ends and provides a satisfying conclusion to the story that started way back in Book 1. (Thank you to Jill at Rhapsody in Books for this link to a fascinating story about Steig Larsson, the books, and the possibility that a fourth book might exist. I was happy to read that Larsson always envisioned the three books as telling one story, which makes sense that the third book does have a satisfying conclusion.) By the end of Book Three, almost all loose ends are tied up in a satisfying manner (though I have to admit, I wonder about Lisbeth’s never seen twin sister Camilla), and you can close the book on these characters and walk away satisfied.
Farewell, Mikael and Lisbeth. I’ll miss you.
To celebrate the release of this book, I’m having a Steig Larsson Week here all week! Here is what is coming up for the rest of the week:
- Wednesday: A poem that celebrates Lisbeth Salander (either one I can find or one I will write … subject to cancellation if I can’t come up with anything)
- Thursday: A review of the movie The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
- Friday: A giveaway of the first two books in the Millennium Trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire
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