Larsson’s trilogy, of which The Girl Who Played With Fire is part, is immensely popular; unfortunately, the author never had the opportunity to bask in his work’s fame. Stieg Larsson sold his books to a publisher in February 2004 and died suddenly of a massive heart attack in November of that year. Because of Larsson’s untimely death, controversy about the English translations of the novels and film rights has ensued, with a battle between Larsson’s partner of 30-plus years and the author’s father. Regardless of the legal drama surrounding the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire received primarily positive reviews and has helped propel Larsson’s writing to a bestselling worldwide status, second only to Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner).
Most critics point out Larsson’s unnecessary wordiness and attention to detail (he has a tendency to describe each grocery item that Lisbeth Salander purchases), but readers look past the cumbersome length of the novel because of Lisbeth’s character. She is an unusual protagonist, and her modern computer savvy coupled with her complicated and violent past creates interest and suspense. Even though Part One of the novel, which narrates Lisbeth’s time in Grenada, is largely unnecessary, readers of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will likely appreciate this second installment in the series because the motivation behind Lisbeth’s aloofness and violent tendencies is revealed.
The Girl Who Played With Fire demonstrates Larsson’s commitment to feminism and social justice. His strongest characters are women, and his most likable male characters (Chief Investigator Bublanski and Mikael Blomkvist) appreciate the female perspective and champion the equality of the women with whom they work. As Michiko Kakutani discusses in The New York Times, Larsson tends to include mostly stock or cartoonish characters to drive his plot or themes forward, but Lisbeth and Blomkvist are individualistic and interesting enough to make up for most of the novel’s flaws.