Hannibal Lecter is forced to watch his little sister be devoured by war criminals and grows up to be a demented young man with a mission to avenge her death. In the height of World War II, Hitler has invaded the Soviet Union with his eyes on the Baltic Region including Lithuania. The country is in complete upheaval as the invasion turns violent and the people are forced from their hopes in an effort to survive. A young boy named Hannibal Lector, finds himself thrust into the middle of the war when his family is forced to flee their Castle to avoid being captured by Hitler's forces. Using the cover of night as protection, the family makes it through the forests to their hunting lodge deep within the forest as the German troops close in from all sides.
The adjustment to country life is hard on Hannibal and his sister, Mischa who grow very close. With only each other for comfort, Hannibal takes on the role of a surrogate father, raising Mischa and teaching her how to survive in the harsh elements of the forest. Three years pass and the family struggles through the harsh winters of the Lithuanian wilderness, narrowly dodging capture several times as the Nazis continue their invasion. Finally, the Americans drive the Nazis out of the country and the Lecter family begin to make preparations to return to their home which has been occupied for the past three years.
On a fall day, a Soviet Tank with a ragtag crew stop by the lodge asking for water. Unfortunately, a German plane spots the tank during a pass of the forest, unleashing a whirlwind heavy fire that causes the tank to explode. Hannibal and his sister watch in horror as their mother and father along with the tank's crew are engulfed in the flames and killed instantly. Knowing he must take care of his sister, Hannibal remains in the college and continues to raise Mischa, vowing to protect her at all costs.
Six months later, their lodge is invaded by militia who defected to the Nazi side. The leader of the group demands they loot the lodge and spot Mischa hiding. Hungry and without food, they kill Mischa and divide her into portions to be eaten. Hannibal watches the entire ordeal from his hiding spot, the experience shattering his humanity as he vows to take revenge on all who hurt his sister before he passes out from the sight of her dismembered corpse.
Hannibal comes to in the forest. Unsure he how he got there and no able to speak due to the trauma, he wanders for days lost and confused. A crew of Soviets on their way to the border spot Hannibal and pick him up. The only thing he is able to communicate is that his home is Lecter Castle. The men decide to take him there as he remains silent, his new found hatred for those who destroyed his family raging.
When they arrive at Lecter Castle, Hannibal is surprised to find it has been transformed into a Soviet Orphanage for children who have been left alone due to the war. Lecter keeps to himself, his obsession with murder growing stronger than ever. Thankfully, Lecter is adopted by his Uncle Robert. Robert, a well-known painter, takes him to France so he can live away from the death and destruction of his former life and build a new one in a beautiful setting. As they begin their new life together, Hannibal begins to think he may finally be able to happy and move on from his sister's death. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and his Uncle passes away suddenly. The loss is almost too much for Hannibal's fragile psyche to bear and he almost has a complete nervous breakdown, especially when he is forced to leave his Uncle's home as everything is sold to pay off old debts.
Hannibal is claimed by his Japanese Aunt, Lady Murasaki. At first he is unsure of her and unhappy with having to live lower class than he is used to. However, Muraski's love and kindness breaks through to Hannibal and the two develop a close relationship that border lines romantic as he becomes a teenager. With the encouragement of Murasaki, Hannibal decides to pursue a career in medicine. His professors are impressed with his quick understanding of the material and Hannibal excels beyond all expectations.
One day while at the butcher shop with his aunt, she is insulted by the man after he comes onto her and she refuses. Hannibal marks the man, his rage beyond his control. The next day, Hannibal tracks down the butcher who is fishing for his latest catches to sell. He once again demands for the butcher to apologize. The butcher laughs and refuses the teens request. Hannibal murders him with a katana, slicing his arms and intestines and the decapitating him. He flees the scene and returns Murasaki. At first appalled, Murasaki refuses to let Hannibal destroy his future for this mistake. Taking the butcher's head, she places it in front of the police station.
Hannibal continues his studies and is awarded a scholarship in Paris. While there, Hannibal works on cadavers as part of his studies. This leads to a new fascination with the human body. Hannibal questions how it works. What can be removed without killing the host. This fascination begins to overtake Hannibal as he plots his revenge for his sister. Lecter tells Muraski he must right the wrongs of his past. She asks him to leave it alone as she knows that it will ultimately destroy him, but Hannibal knows he must go.
Meanwhile, Inspector Popil a hard-nosed detective is investigating the murder of the butcher and suspects Hannibal. However, Murasaki is able to dissuade him and lead him on a false trail away from Hannibal, although Popil is still suspicious of the young man as the killing was very calculated and could match the work of someone who studied medicine.
Back in Lithuania, Hannibal tracks down the old lodge where he survived for so many years with his little sister. The place in ruins, he finds the remains of his sister. The moment of her death rushing back, Hannibal is consumed by rage. He realizes what he must do—murder every single man who murdered her that night. As Hannibal buries his sister, one of the six men who has stayed in the ruins of the lodge over the years attacks him as an intruder. Hannibal murders him, the rush from his death by his hands intoxicating.
Hannibal spends the next several years hunting down his sister's killers with Inspector Popil right on his trail. At one point he is caught by Popil after killing one of the men and being sloppy. This leads to an intense investigation where Popil links Hannibal to the previous murders including the butcher. However, there is not enough evidence to convict him and Popil secretly admires Hannibal for killing criminals of war. Hannibal is released from prison and makes his way back to Murasaki. His need for love and compassion fueling him. Hannibal knows he has become a monster but also knows he needs Murasaki for he is never loved another woman.
At Murasaki's Hannibal tries to rekindle their romance but she tells him that she cannot be with him nor can she help him any further. The Hannibal she knew was gone and there was no future for him. Hannibal returns to his schooling in Paris. Realizing that there is nothing left for him in France, Hannibal accepts a position in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Leaving everything he knows behind, Hannibal looks forward to the future as well as his future victims that will cross his path. His fascination with the human body continuing to grow now more than ever. Especially the thought of what it might taste like.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really hated how thin the plot was in this book. It felt like filler and designed to simply show Lecter before he met Clarice Starling. The plot was thin and Lecter's motivation for how he become the infamous serial killer seemed contrived.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when Hannibal's Aunt, Lady Murasaki tells Hannibal that he is no longer a human and that she can no longer be with him as it his destroying her as well. It was the final nail in the coffin for Hannibal in becoming the serial killer he would be known as.
Opinion about the main character:
Hannibal's motivations are very simple. He wants to avenge his sister. As a character that was known for being so elegant and complex, I felt this prequel dumbed down his character with a simple revenge tale.