In all honesty, even after giving myself plenty of time to digest this one, I’m still not sure what I think. David Lagercrantz can write—that much I know—and I definitely enjoyed parts of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, but, in the end, to try recapture the brilliance that was the original Millennium trilogy might just have been too much to ask.
Mikael Blomkvist is back, but his star has diminished a little since we last saw him. Perhaps inevitably after the scale of his successes over the past few years, Blomkvist is struggling for that killer story; instead burying himself in mindless novel-reading, missing the spark he had when he was a young reporter, hungry and ambitious. Ultimately, Blomkvist is burned out—until a mysterious phone call and a meeting in his local pub one day prompts his interest. Even if it is only because he hears of a young woman—a genius with computers—on the grapevine.
Meanwhile, Millennium magazine is struggling, forced to take on a new merger with the type of business people they wouldn’t ordinarily afford a single glance. Lisbeth Salander, on the other hand, is tackling her own agenda, going deep into the highest level of information she can in order to gather information on her father’s criminal empire: the National Security Agency. The mysterious group ‘The Spiders’ lurk in the shadows, and tracking them down will require Salander to confront both the past and present.
Lagercrantz has done a good job bringing Stieg Larsson’s characters to life on the page; Salander in particular feels fully formed and as explosive as always. Yet he’s also managed to put his own feel on the world, creating some interesting characters—in particular August, the young son of renewed professor Franz Balder, expert in artificial intelligence and the man at the centre of a group with a vested interest in his research. August was a breath of fresh air throughout the novel.
So what exactly feels off? In all fairness, I don’t think Lagercrantz did anything wrong as such, I’m just of the view that Larsson set the bar too high with the other books. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a valuable addition to the series—or, a decent ‘stand alone’ or piece of scandalous fan fiction, depending on who you ask—and I’m glad he will be doing more. He’s just going to have to up his game.