The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest begins right where The Girl Who Played With Fire ends, just after Salander returns from the dead to bury an axe in her murderous father's face. Blomkvist finds her at Zalachenko's farm on the verge of death, with a bullet in her head, and calls for help.
While Salander does vacation in Gibraltar, Spain, and she does fly to Paris for a reunion with Mimmi, most of the action is split between two majors settings – Sahlgrenska Hospital in Göteborg, Sweden and Stockholm, Sweden. Sahlgrenska is where Salander is recovering from the bullet to her brain and other injuries. Stockholm is where Blomkvist and his team, Milton Security, the Unit, the Section, and the police all play Spy vs Spy with each other. Stockholm is also where Salander awaits wait in jail for her trial and where she wins her freedom in court.
As in the other two Salander-Blomkvist novels, cyberspace is an important part of the setting. In fact, the dangerous games being played are mostly won and lost in cyberspace. Blomkvist knows that Salander must have access to a computer and the Internet in order to prepare her defense and help take down the bad guys. When Blomkvist convinces Dr. Jonasson to smuggle Salander's Palm Tungsten T3 into the hospital he says, "This is the most important weapon Lisbeth has in her arsenal – she has to have it" (11.293). We think he's right.
For example, Teleborian might not have faced charges or lost his job even though he was discredited as an expert on Salander. But, Plague, Salander, and the Hacker Republic are able to hack his computer and uncover the child pornography he trades with others (in cyberspace).
Similarly, Salander and Plague must go into cyberspace to discover who is stalking Erika Berger. In the process, Salander and Berger are able to bond, and this probably softens Salander toward Blomkvist. Yep, and all that pinging back and forth between Blomkvist and Salander helps lay the ground work for their in-the-flesh reunion at the end of the novel.
Hospitals and hospital-type places are important to all three books of the trilogy. In Dragon Tattoo Salander's visits to her mother in Äppelviken nursing home help us see, among other things, Salander's caring side. Her visits to her ex-guardian and good friend Holger Palmgren at his rehabilitation center in Fire have a similar effect. Fire also introduces us to the horrors Salander faced at St. Stefan's psychiatric clinic, where she was falsely imprisoned and tormented by Dr. Teleborian.
Sahlgrenska hospital, where Salander recovers from Zalachenko and Niedermann's attempt to kill her, is a stark contrast to St. Stefan's. Why? Well, when Salander was in St. Stefan's there were very few people who cared about her and nobody brave enough to stop Teleborian from abusing her. At Sahlgrenska, though, there's a whole army of people devoted to her safety. In St. Stefan's she had the sadistic Teleborian looking out for her; in Sahlgrenska, she has the kind and intelligent Dr. Jonasson.
Being protected from those who wish her harm, while remaining connected with the outside world, makes Salander's hospital stay, as she tells Plague, positively "Restful" (15.92) in spite of the lack of pizza. After Gullberg kills Zalachenko, Salander has a chance to relax and write her autobiography, a document which will help her win back the freedom.
Finally it was over.
The story that had begun on the day she was born had ended at the brickworks.
She was free. (Epilogue.230-232)
Hornet's Nest just wouldn't be complete without some kind of torture chamber. Take Nils Bjurman's bedroom and Martin Vanger's underground room in Tattoo, or Salander's bedroom at St. Stefan's and her premature grave in Fire. Here we have the abandoned brickworks, Salander's inheritance from Zalachenko. When she learns of its existence, she tries not to be curious, but can't help herself. She has to check it out. As she explores the old warehouse, readers realize along with Salander that the place was used to imprison women in Zalachenko's sex trade, and at least two dead bodies are on the premises.
Of course, this is also where Salander makes sure the police get hold of all the remaining hornets (members of Svavelsjö Motorcycle Club), and we see Salander and Niedermann face off in one of the most gruesome cases of sibling rivalry we know of. As we talk about in "Characters: Lisbeth Salander," Salander's decision to leave Niedermann to the police instead of killing him might be part of what makes her feel so free. If she'd killed Niedermann she might once again be a wanted women, having to defend her actions in a court of law.
SMP, where Erika Berger takes on the job as editor in chief, is a huge newspaper controlled by men who don't respect Berger or even consider her ideas. When Salander reads the SMP board's correspondence, while tracking Berger's stalker, she wonders, "Why the hell had this group of boys hired Berger at all, if all they did was tear her limb to limb?" (21.13).
Good question. They certainly didn't hire her to cut their personal profits in order to beef up the news team and update equipment, which is what Berger wants to do. Likely, they thought they could use her famous face to attract new readers, while bending her to their will. SMP provides an intense contrast to Millennium, where Berger is respected and valued, as are all the staff members.
Above all, quality and devotion to the truth define Millennium. Certainly there is quality news being put out at SMP, but as a daily paper, this is harder to achieve than with a monthly. This challenge is part of what attracts Berger to the position. Likely, she would have greatly improved the quality of the news coming out if she'd been given real control, instead of in name only.