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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Girl Who Kicked
the Hornet's Nest

Stieg Larsson

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To purchase The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Author: Stieg Larsson
Genre: Novel
Written: (2007) (Eng. 2009)
Length: 563 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - US
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest - UK
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Canada
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest - India
La reine dans le palais des courants d'air - France
Vergebung - Deutschland
La regina dei castelli di carta - Italia
La reina en el palacio de las corrientes de aire - España
  • Swedish title: Luftslottet som sprängdes
  • UK title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
  • US title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
  • Translated by Reg Keeland

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Our Assessment:

B : has its moments, but is way too tidy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 29/10/2010 .
Entertainment Weekly B+ 19/5/2010 Rob Brunner
Financial Times . 26/10/2010 Tony Tassell
FAZ . 25/4/2008 Hannes Hintermaier
The Globe & Mail . 21/5/2010 Peter Robinson
The Guardian . 3/10/2009 Kate Mosse
The LA Times . 24/5/2010 Richard Schickel
The NY Rev. of Books . 9/6/2011 Tim Parks
The NY Times . 20/5/2010 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 20/5/2010 David Kamp
The New Yorker . 12/7/2010 .
The Observer . 4/10/2009 Nick Cohen
Salon . 16/5/2010 Laura Miller
San Francisco Chronicle . 23/5/2010 Michael Berry
The Spectator . 7/10/2009 .
Sunday Times . 27/9/2010 Joan Smith
Svenska Dagbladet . 1/6/2007 Magnus Persson
The Times . 26/9/2009 Marcel Berlins
USA Today . 20/5/2010 Deirdre Donahue
The Washington Post . 24/5/2010 Patrick Anderson

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, ranging from disappointment to finding it an accomplished end to the trilogy

  From the Reviews:
  • "There are occasional lapses into didacticism (.....) There are also some wildly dramatic incidents (...) that stretch credibility to the limit. But Larssonís vivid characters, the depth of detail across the three books, the powerfully imaginative plot and the sheer verve of the writing make "The Millennium Trilogy" a masterpiece of its genre." - The Economist

  • "It's a tangled plot and a pretty far-fetched premise. (...) Fans of the first two books might miss the Hollywood-blockbuster action sequences and wish Salander -- the series' most compelling character -- were more of a presence, but Hornet's Nest is still a satisfying finale to Larsson's entertainingly suspenseful trilogy." - Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly

  • "As in the first two books of the trilogy, the writing is sometimes naive and some of the plot far-fetched. But an idealistic underpinning to the writing and the sheer pace of it all helps the reader get past that." - Tony Tassell, Financial Times

  • "Dass man sich dieser bizarren Figur hingibt, ist die eigentliche Leistung des Erzählers. Salander ist in jeder Hinsicht der Gegenentwurf zu jener sozialstaatlichen Bürgerweltsfassade, hinter der Abgründe lauern. Dahin die Tage, als das Land noch als Vorbild taugen konnte, da ist sich Larsson mit seinen zeitgenössischen Kollegen einig. Schweden, eine der besten Demokratien ? Ein ausgehöhlter Popanz." - Hannes Hintermeier, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "One of the faults of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is that it spends far too much of its first 100 or so pages rehashing the previous two novels (.....) Nevertheless, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is a superior page-turner that doesn't leave you feeling disgusted with yourself for not being able to put it down. It draws you into interesting characters and their world" - Peter Robinson, The Globe & Mail

  • "This is a grown-up novel for grown-up readers, who want something more than a quick fix and a car chase. And it's why the Millennium trilogy is rightly a publishing phenomenon all over the world." - Kate Mosse, The Guardian

  • "The best features of Larsson's books are lively, intricately improbable plots. These, however, are set forth in a banal style that demonstrates no more than minimal skills when it comes to most of his characterizations and descriptive writing." - Richard Schickel, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Itís also a thoroughly gripping read that shows off the maturation of the authorís storytelling talents. (...) Larssonís premise is as convoluted as it is melodramatic. (...) Cutting nimbly from one story line to another, Larsson does an expert job of pumping up suspense while credibly evoking the disparate worlds his characters inhabit" - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "Book 3, gratifyingly, brings the action back to a place somewhat resembling reality and, in so doing, restores dignity to the franchise. (...) Salander and Blomkvist are presented with yet another adversary, this one from within the depths of the very government that should be protecting them. Itís all skillfully interlaced (.....) And for fans of the first two books, there are plenty of the Larssonian hallmarks they have come to love" - David Kamp, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The usual sadism and horror braid through the narrative to grotesque and titillating effect. Though Larssonís books read like engorged murder mysteries, their plots are just dressing for a far more unpleasant fixation" - The New Yorker

  • "I cannot think of another modern writer who so successfully turns his politics away from a preachy manifesto and into a dynamic narrative device. Larsson's hatred of injustice will drive readers across the world through a three-volume novel and leave them regretting reaching the final page; and regretting, even more, the early death of a master storyteller just as he was entering his prime." - Nick Cohen, The Observer

  • "The climax of Hornet's Nest is, naturally, a trial. Salander, who long ago (and with good cause) lost any faith in institutions or official authority, is vendetta personified, confronting the Enlightenment institution of the rule of law. One side is so satisfying, so charismatic, so immediately appealing to our instinctive sense of right and wrong; the other, as Larsson himself was no doubt aware, is the only thing keeping us from descending back into the bloody world of the Icelandic sagas." - Laura Miller, Salon

  • "What saves the enterprise is Larsson's absolute commitment to the material. He knows how to set a scene and milk it of every last drop of suspense. He understands what makes Lisbeth Salander so fascinating and gives her worthy opponents to struggle against. Most of all, there's a fierce sense of moral outrage behind the cloak-and-dagger and courtroom theatrics. (...) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest succeeds in its primary objective, bringing to a satisfying conclusion the dramatic arc begun in the first volume." - Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(W)hat is surprising -- or perhaps not -- is that Larssonís books get worse as he goes along. Larsson completes the story by morphing it into an ultra-conventional spy thriller. Weíve come from genre-buster to posh potboiler in the space of two books. (...) All that said, Larssonís books are certainly page-turners" - The Spectator

  • "The book is a reminder of Larssonís strengths and a few weaknesses. Blomkvistís vanity is trying, as every woman he meets falls for him, and the reliance on violence as a solution to loose ends is uncomfortable. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornetsí Nest is not really a standalone read like the earlier novels, but the completion of the trilogy confirms Larsson as one of the great talents of contemporary crime fiction." - Joan Smith, Sunday Times

  • "Den nya, och sista, romanen är på över 700 sidor. Det är inte många som klarar att göra varenda en av dem till underhållande läsning. Larsson lyckas. Det är en stor bedrift och en av förklaringarna till böckernas osannolika framgångar." - Magnus Persson, Svenska Dagbladet

  • "Stieg Larssonís immensely readable Millennium novels are far from flawless; they are too long and often unnecessarily complex. But theyíve brought a much needed freshness into the world of crime fiction." - Marcel Berlins, The Times

  • "Hornet's Nest lacks the narrative drive, energy and originality of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. Those books, you inhaled. Reading this one feels like work. It's more like a first draft than a polished novel." - Deirdre Donahue, USA Today

  • "Only now, with the publication of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third novel in the late Stieg Larsson's immensely popular Millennium trilogy, can we fully appreciate the Swedish writer's achievement. The trilogy ranks among those novels that expand the horizons of popular fiction. (...) Larsson was a dedicated leftist, and ultimately his trilogy is best understood as a great, sprawling, angry political novel set in Sweden but confronting issues that resonate throughout the Western world." - Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (or Hornet's Nest, as the American publisher prefers) is the final volume in the Millennium-trilogy, the three books Stieg Larsson completed before his death. This volume rounds off things well enough, giving his gamine heroine, Lisbeth Salander, some closure as it deals with the remaining figures who played such an awful role in making her the very peculiar woman she became, but it's also open-ended: there could easily be more to come (and, one suspects Larsson must have had considerably more in mind: yet again, Lisbeth's sister is repeatedly mentioned, yet again she remains a no-show and mystery -- clearly Larsson was laying the foundation for yet another storyline there).
       The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest begins right where The Girl who Played with Fire left off.

[Note: Readers are presumed to have read the first two volumes of the series, and, indeed, it makes little sense to read these books out of order or to read this one first; Larsson recapitulates much that went before, but it really is one, long, connected tale, and you should have read the first two volumes before coming to this one. Nevertheless, for those who somehow stumbled onto this review without reading the first two volumes a spoiler alert is warranted: details of what happened previously are mentioned below.]
       The beginning of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is fairly dramatic, Lisbeth -- and her father, the evil Zalachenko -- rushed off to hospital, Mikael Blomkvist still on scene where the last big showdown went down -- and trying to convince the world's stupidest policeman that Ronald Niedermann, Lisbeth's murderous and non-pain-feeling half-brother, conveniently tied for the taking to a traffic sign, must be approached with the utmost care.
       In both previous installments of the story, Lisbeth has been presented as a cartoon character, and that doesn't change that much here. Yes, she has a bullet in her brain -- but, hey, she rose from the grave at the end of the last book, so that's surely not going to be much of a problem. Interestingly, however, Larsson leaves his compelling and strong-willed heroine in hospital for most of this book. She eventually gets to do some computer hack-work, but for the most part she's reduced to a very passive role. It's an odd choice -- Lisbeth as comic action-hero drove much of the previous two novels -- though given the fact that the parts of the novel when he finally does set her free and she goes off jet-setting are by far the weakest, Larsson may have known what he was doing.
       So these early parts of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest are gripping, all the more so because Lisbeth and her decidedly unbeloved dad are practically in adjoining rooms. It might be a bit more thrilling if this were also more plausible: here are two characters who accuse each other of trying to kill each other and the police don't even bother to guard their doors, much less ensure that there can be no contact between the two. Indeed, there doesn't seem to be much concern about hospital security here, at least not until the need becomes really, really obvious.
       Larsson begins promisingly enough, with some nice and truly unexpected turns. Zalachenko's surfacing and Lisbeth's claims are a major inconvenience for some powers that be, and have to be dealt with. Some of them are dealt with with astonishing speed and in rather unexpected ways: Larsson manages to spring a surprise or two here -- all the more effective, because the rather plodding Larsson doesn't much go in for surprises.
       Lisbeth is in no small bit of trouble: okay, so she obviously didn't kill everyone she's accused of killing, but there's good evidence that she was responsible for some criminal things. Meanwhile:
Zalachenko is well versed in Swedish law and police procedure. He doesn't admit to a thing, and he has Niedermann as a scapegoat. I don't have any idea what we can prove.
       But, as it turns out, it's not so much (or only) Zalachenko that Lisbeth has to fear, but rather the rogue government employees who ran the former Soviet spy -- and, of course, 'the system' itself. The system -- the government of the social welfare state, meant to look out for its citizens, has, of course, always failed Lisbeth. Fortunately, she has her knight in shining armor, journalist Blomkvist -- who asserts:
I know what happened to her. I know roughly what's behind it all. And I have a strategy.
       What's behind it all is a covert cabal of members of the Säkerhetspolisen -- Secret Police, Säpo for short -- a 'Zalachenko club' that protected Zalachenko and did some very bad things in order to keep him (and themselves) under cover. Yes, as Blomkvist notes:
We're no longer in a battle with a gang of criminals; this time it's with a government department. It's going to be tough.
       It is: the 'Zalachenko club' fights dirty -- and those who battle against it can't be sure of who is involved, making it difficult for the police and Security Police who want to close them down to deal with them. Of course it helps that, while they are willing to resort to violent and ugly tactics, the 'Zalachenko club' aren't very careful and leave a bright, easy-to-follow trail (especially insofar as they are trailing Blomkvist and his cohorts). Indeed, as Lisbeth's trial-date approaches, the 'Zalachenko club' is confident:
Millennium doesn't know which way to turn. They may suspect that we're somewhere out here, but they lack documentation, and they have no way of finding it -- or us. And we know at least as much as they do.
       This delusion is shattered soon enough. Meanwhile, while Blomkvist's master-plan isn't explicitly revealed to readers along the way, the pieces have been falling into place for a while. Lisbeth is largely sidelined in hospital, only able to eventually offer a bit of computer support. Except for about Niedermann, she hasn't said a word to the police, and her communications with her lawyer -- Blomkvist's sister -- are also off-limits. But Blomkvist and some enterprising police officials have been building a devastating case.
       What's disappointing about so much of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is how incredibly tidy it is. The loose ends of the conspiracy are easily tied up, and when, say, plans are made to besmirch Blomkvist's name, well, there is of course incontrovertible video evidence that he's being framed handy. There's occasional concern that the bad guys can get away with it, like doctor evil incarnate, Dr.Teleborian -- who has, after all, gotten away with so much for so long -- but as if the evidence against him isn't enough Larsson has to heap thousands of images of child pornography onto his computer, just to make sure (and to show what an all-around swell villain he is). And there are a some moments of tension -- when Millennium-editor (and Blomkvist's casual lover) Berger has an unpleasant stalker, for example, or when some low-life hitmen get involved -- but on the whole there's rarely reason for much concern. Indeed, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is almost wholly one triumphal parade, culminating in the trial.
       Of course, it doesn't end there: Larsson is an expert at the inexpert coda. Here he ties up one remaining loose thread in semi-sensational manner -- cartoon-figure Lisbeth finally unleashed in action-mode ! -- as one last figure has to be dealt with. It ends, as does everything in Larsson's world, predictably. (One big loose end remains however: what's the deal with the sister ?)
       Larsson rarely shows much restraint, whether with providing Lisbeth with funds (she has a ridiculous fortune squirreled away) or abilities (that photographic memory, those super-hacker skills), or involving the powerful (two Swedish prime ministers are involved in the take-down efforts to get the 'Zalachenko club'), or the depravity of his villains.
       And there's the fact that, as one character notes:
There's something very sick about this whole story.
       Near the end, Blomkvist sums up:
When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it's about violence against women, and the men who enable it.
       The easy-going Blomkvist sleeps around a good deal, but he's entirely good-natured, but otherwise there is, indeed, a good deal of violence against women here; indeed, Larsson revels in it rather too intently (and certainly at times gratuitously -- though in this overpacked novel (as overpacked as the previous volumes) there's an excess of almost everything).
       The shock-effects Larsson goes after make it easy to forget how pedestrian and simplistic The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is. There are moments of suspense, but Larsson makes it far too easy for himself and the good guys in this novel that is all darkest black and purest white and whose conclusions are entirely foregone. The moral standards held up here are admirable but naïve: evil has been perpetrated, but Larsson goes so far as to claim:
     If the government was involved, then Sweden wasn't one iota better than any dictatorship in the entire world.
       Those are high standards indeed, and suggest a faith in authority (or an ideal of authority) that readers in many other countries (and certainly the US) must find hard to identify with. Yes, Larsson describes a failure of state -- but clearly he believes that the state should be capable of making (and doing) good, and held to the highest of standards.
       The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is, again, not particularly well-written, and decidedly oddly paced. It feels like one more building-block of a larger structure -- not the end of a trilogy, but party of a many-volumed ongoing work -- indeed, how else to explain such things as the bizarre and completely pointless late-tale digression on how Lisbeth's wealth is managed ?
       Larsson does offer some decent suspense along the way, though ultimately too few surprises -- and the culminating trial, as sensational as it is, and its outcome are entirely predictable. Nevertheless, any reader of the first two volumes will want to read this one as well. It has similar peaks and valleys, and it is certainly entertaining enough; indeed, there's even something compelling about his pointless tangential sections, such as Berger's office-politics struggles at her new newspaper job.
       Yes, like the previous two volumes, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is a pretty bad book, with any number of flaws to pick at. And yet, it's still a solid, readable entertainment: there's enough to it (overflowing as it is ...) to carry one rather comfortably through.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 July 2010

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: Reviews: Stieg Larsson: Other books by Stieg Larsson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Stieg Larsson lived 1954 to 2004.

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