Top critical review
31 people found this helpful
Not a great read, but certainly a fun one
on February 7, 2007
As a longtime fan of Thomas Harris' novels featuring Hannibal Lecter, I was very excited to read HANNIBAL RISING. The premise intrigued me: I'm one of those people who loves the recent slew of prequels, and the idea of learning the ghastly origins of Hannibal Lecter sounded simply delectable to me. [...] HANNIBAL RISING is not the equivalent of RED DRAGON or THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS - perhaps not even of HANNIBAL, for that matter. But I disagree with those many who have simply dismissed HANNIBAL RISING as "crap". True, it's not a great read, but it is certainly a fun one.
The book opens during Hitler's "Blitzkrieg" operation during World War II, when Axis troops spread across Europe and placed the majority of it under Nazi control. The Lecter family, which consists of the cultured Count and Countess as well as their talented son Hannibal and his little sister, Mischa, flees to their cabin in the woods of Poland to escape from the invading SS. Of course, things go to hell when a fighter plane crashes into the cabin, burning Hannibal's parents and leaving he and his sister to fend for themselves. Then a band of starving Russian thieves come across the cabin, and with nothing left to eat, they turn to Hannibal and his sister ...
The rest of the book deals with Hannibal as a disturbed teenager trying to deal with the pain over the loss with his sister when he is taken in by his uncle Robert and his dazzling wife, Lady Muraski, and subsequently his life as a young medical student in Paris, where he finally begins planning his revenge on the fiends who murdered his sister.
HANNIBAL RISING has nothing - NOTHING - in common with any of the previous Hannibal Lecter books. The character of Hannibal still retains his wit and remains fascinating, but is a little more reckless and humane than his older self, though he's still just as delightfully brilliant as ever. One of the problems with HANNIBAL RISING is that it feels rushed - and not without reason: Thomas Harris wrote and sold the screenplay for the film before he wrote the novel. That's a pity, because at times it feels like Harris is telling the story simply to wow audiences and grab some more cash, rather than because he has a story to tell. The action is fast, but the sentences are simple and almost completely devoid of the eloquence found in HANNIBAL and its predecessors. Much of the narrative reads more like a movie script than a novel, and there are some attempts at artistry that wind up reading more like grammatical errors.
Then there's the questions one would expect the origin story of Hannibal Lecter to clear up. Questions like, "Why does he eat people?" and "How did Hannibal become so sophisticated a killer?" are left unanswered. We get a sumptuous look at Hannibal's youth, but it seems a little far-fetched at times. Perhaps only am I bothered by this, as I was expecting a novel that encompassed most of Hannibal's life up until RED DRAGON. Still, at the end of HANNIBAL RISING we are left with a greater sense of who Hannibal Lecter is, even if we don't finish with the satisfaction one would wish for from an examination of Hannibal's dark beginnings.
And so the question one must ask oneself is "To read or not to read"? In my opinion, to read. HANNIBAL RISING may not be the masterpiece that THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or RED DRAGON was, it may not have the intricacy and simple satisfaction proved by HANNIBAL, but if you can accept it for what it is, a horrific tale of grisly vengeance, then you won't regret it. On the other hand, those expecting to see a linear path from the innocent boy Hannibal Lecter to the horrific adult Hannibal Lecter may be left confused and enraged. I personally don't feel as though I've a bone to pick with Thomas Harris (sorry, I couldn't resist), but others may. The only way to know what lies in the darkness is to venture into it, and many will enjoy what they find in the darkness of HANNIBAL RISING.