The girl’s back.
Lisbeth Salander is brought back by a different author, David Lagercrantz, a worthy successor to the late creator and fellow Swede Stieg Larsson. I say successor, because my spider sense tells me there will be succeeding novels in the Millennium series.
But let’s focus on the latest one. In the fourth novel, Lisbeth Salander, who is quite possibly the most badass heroine in literature (and it’s not just because of her tattoos and goth-punk style), displays a maternal instinct. A heresy? Not at all. Lisbeth does care about other people (she is fiercely loyal to a select few) and will fight for them to the death, most of the time literally. In Spider’s Web, she has found a kindred spirit in August Balder, a young autistic savant whose father Frans is murdered, and protects him with her life. (Murder? Check. Conspiracy? We’ll get there.)
Frans Balder, a scientist who has developed artificial super-intelligence technology, is shot dead at home, and his son witnesses everything. August may be nonverbal, but he can draw the scene of the crime with mathematical precision and capture the killer’s features in striking detail.
Veteran journalist Mikael Blomkvist is present, too (of course). Late at night, he is summoned by Balder moments before the murder. The reclusive genius, perhaps sensing the end, wants to break his silence. He knows his technology has been stolen. He has sniffed out a conspiracy, and because this is a Millennium novel, a government organization is of course involved: the National Security Agency or NSA. (Thanks, Edward Snowden, for the idea.)
Blomkvist, always beleaguered and besieged in the series, is this time on the verge of becoming washed-up. Print is dying (a matter up for debate), digital is taking over, and old-school journalists such as he are becoming irrelevant by the minute (or second). Blomkvist badly needs a scoop to revive his reputation and his floundering magazine, Millennium, and Balder hands him one. It also turns out that he has enlisted Lisbeth’s help in making his own investigation.
And that’s how the hacker and the journalist cross paths again, and we fans couldn’t be any happier. We want more of Lisbeth and Blomkvist. Does it matter that Larsson himself didn’t write this novel? No, because Lagercrantz has been true to the spirit of the series. He treats Lisbeth with the same reverence and adopts Larsson’s long-winded writing style (with some improvements, fortunately). The “you and me against the government and a criminal organization” drama is still there, but Lagercrantz introduces a new villain, who remains at large at the end of the novel. (I’m tempted to drop hints as to the identity, but let’s just say she is related to Lisbeth.)
Spider’s Web may follow the formula, and that’s good, but this novel is not groundbreaking. Lagercrantz hasn’t really upped the ante. The new villain lacks venom, but perhaps because her character is still underdeveloped (and that’s why I believe there will be a fifth and even a sixth novel). Too many cliches in the English translation, such as “shake like a leaf” and “play him like a violin,” also don’t help. “Aim for their weakest point. Be a warrior,” which is Lisbeth’s advice to August’s mom, feels like its punch has gotten lost in translation. To be fair, though, the English translation of the earlier novels is far worse, making the books feel dated.
I’d love to see if Lagercrantz will write another Millennium novel (or two) and take the series to a whole new level (that’s a cliche right there). He has already laid the groundwork. Her father’s criminal network has not only survived but has also been upgraded, and we know Lisbeth won’t stop until she crushes her enemies under the heels of her spiked boots. I can’t wait for the girl to come back.
Cover image via Knopf Doubleday