Rafael Abalos, translated by Noel Baca Castex,
Grimpow: The Invisible Road
(Montena, 2005; Delacorte, 2007)

Recent novels like The Da Vinci Code have brought the Knights Templar into the spotlight, and now it is the young-adult population's turn to delve into the mysteries surrounding both the foundation and extermination of this fascinating society.

While the last members of the Order of the Knights Templar scramble to survive, the common people's lives begin to be disturbed. But none as much Grimpow's. This youth's simple life as a peasant-turned-outlaw has afforded him nothing more than one true friend and a desire to choose his own fate. However, the discovery of a corpse changes everything when the most curious of the dead man's possessions seems to choose Grimpow. This precious stone that can expand his world to include every language under the sun goes on to unravel a trail of questions for Grimpow as wonderful as any of the answers even his new knowledge and awareness can find.

The 14th-century fall of the Templars leads smoothly into this chosen youth's quest to grow into someone great enough to solve the unfurling riddles of his stone, and free enough to enjoy his newfound role in life. The logical progression between historical Europe and Abalos's fanciful creations blends together plausibly to shape a world readers will enjoy traveling through and analyzing, along with Grimpow. Unfortunately, the connections between Grimpow and his companions fall short of this relationship between historical and fictional events.

Salietti, the Italian knight who shares Grimpow's journey remains flat and predictable, in spite of having a few twists in his own story. Moreover, the repertoire between the knight and his new squire fails to evolve through their discoveries of either life or each other. The introduction of a fair lady called Weienell provides another voice to help both Grimpow and the reader sort through the layers of Abalos's plot, but not much characterization. In short, readers are told about their feelings towards one another, because otherwise they would not know. The complex plot is the first and foremost point of Grimpow, and even without deep characters to guide people through the mystery, it is certainly enough to engage and intrigue the audience on its own.

The morals behind Abalos's story become clear without being heavy-handed, the turns of phrase penned by the translator are well-chosen and easy to follow, the pacing offers a pleasantly fast read, and the eventual conclusions are complex, stimulating and optimistic without confusing or oversimplifying things for its young-adult audience. The various components of the story are summarized rather often, and several emotional transitions occur abruptly or have no follow-through. Yet overall, this novel delivers by providing all the action fit for adventures, as well as the puzzles expected of a mystery, in this thoroughly imaginative tale conveying a very important message.

review by
Whitney Mallenby

20 September 2008

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