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Grimpow: The Invisible Road    by Rafael Abalos order for
by Rafael Abalos
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Stories based on Knights Templar secrets seem to be in vogue, and now Spanish author Rafael Abalos brings us a historical on this theme for YA readers - including the obligatory quest riddles introduced by, and so popular in, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

It starts slowly, 'the dark winter of 1313, in a mountainous region of France', with a mysterious stranger and a series of deaths. It's an era 'dominated by fear and superstition, hunger and poverty, disease and death.' A Foreword supplies some historical context, including the fact that the Pope branded the Knights Templar as heretics in 1307, after which a great number of them 'were searched out and burned at the stake.'

Young Grimpow has scrounged a living for the last year with his older friend Durlib, an engaging swindler and thief. After Grimpow stumbles upon a dead Templar in the snow with a stone in his hand and a letter and treasures lying under him - including a gold seal with a circular snake biting its tail - Durlib gives Grimpow the stone. When they open the letter, the boy (holding the stone) is able to decipher its strange symbols. The corpse vanishes.

The duo journey to the abbey of Brinkdum, soon followed by the vicious Bulvar of Goztell, an inquisitor who was on the dead man's trail. The friends are parted, but Grimpow wins refuge at the abbey where he learns that he is a Chosen One, heir to a secret that nine original Knights Templar brought out of Jerusalem, linked to a Circle of Stone (a ring of castles in Germany). Grimpow begins to suspect that he carries the philosopher's stone, long sought by alchemists.

When Italian knight Salietti arrives at the abbey, on his way north to Strasbourg, Grimpow signs on as his squire, embarking on a quest to unlock the great mystery of the Templars. They share many adventures en route - they're attacked by bandits; rescue a beautiful, wise young woman named Weienell, who joins them and helps puzzle out a succession of challenging riddles; survive a clash of armies, a castle siege, and a deadly trap in a sealed chamber; and finally unlock a 'universe of wisdom' back in France.

Though Grimpow: The Invisible Road takes its time getting going - and I found an anachronistic mention of handcuffs (probably introduced in the translation from the original Spanish) in this medieval era jarring - there is a great deal to recommend in this exciting story that's a combination of quest and coming of age for its young hero. In particular, I appreciated its emphasis on compassion and wisdom - rather than material things - as the true treasures to be sought in life.

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