The Girl Who Played with Fire
by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Girl who Played with Fire / 978-0-307-27230-0
In my review of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", I stated that the book was a serious slow-starter and the main characters sometimes smelled a little "Mary Sue"-ish, but that if you stuck with the book, it was definitely worth it - sometime around the 1/3 mark the narrative picks up tremendously and it's a wild ride from there on in. "The Girl who Played with Fire" is more of the same - both the good points and the bad.
I was a little disappointed to see that "Played with Fire" starts out almost as slowly as its predecessor, and the Mary Sue factor has ramped up as well. We're introduced to Salander on her extended vacation, as she lounges by the beach memorizing math textbooks and solving complicated theorems in weeks (where previously the world's greatest mathematicians required years to do so). Like "Dragon Tattoo", however, somewhere about the 1/3 mark, the action picks up tremendously, as we find Salander embroiled in a hunt for a murderer that has both the street gangs and the police hunting for her head.
The focus is definitely fully on Salander this time around - Blomkvist struggles valiantly to provide much of the same support that Salander provided for him the first time around (research, advocate, and rescuer), but Salander is quite literally the star of the show. Whether this will please or frustrate fans will likely depend on what they liked most about "Dragon Tattoo" - the "cold case" research angle has been toned back tremendously in favor of a heated chase for Salander - but I enjoyed the novel immensely even without the intriguing "cold case" angle that made "Dragon Tattoo" so memorable.
Also like "Dragon Tattoo", "Played with Fire" has a strong focus on the oppression of women and lower classes in society. Where "Dragon Tattoo" embodied these issues in Salander and in the history of Harriet Vanger, "Played with Fire" raises the stakes to show how systematic prejudice can be - despite the eye witness testimony of all of Salander's closest associates, the police remain steadfastly convinced that Salander is an illiterate prostitute for much of the novel, largely because of a single police report that was never substantiated or validated in any way. Although some members of the police force are sharply outlined as sexist and classist, even the "good" officers are too unwilling to question the system and look past their own prejudices. The net is expanded, too, this time, with the author also showing homophobia and how it has no place in society in general and police investigations in particular.
If you liked "Dragon Tattoo" and came away wanting more of Salander, then "Played with Fire" is definitely for you; if you mostly liked the cold case angle, though, then you may enjoy this novel slightly less than the first. Also, do check out the audiobook narration - the reader is the same narrator as was used with "Dragon Tattoo" and the reading is flat-out superb.
~ Ana Mardoll
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