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*Grimpow: The Invisible Road* by Rafael Abalos- young adult book review  
Grimpow: The Invisible Road
by Rafael Abalos
Grades 7+ 512 pages Delacorte October 2007 Hardcover    

Hidden in a leather bag is a treasure that will change the life of the young boy named Grimpow forever. Grimpow finds the leather bag around the neck of a very dead man, lying in the snow. Horrified, as anyone would be, the orphan Grimpow runs to tell his friend, the rogue and thief Durlib. When they open the bag, inside it are two daggers with jeweled handles, silver coins, a sealed message, and a mysterious “polished, rounded stone the size of an almond.” Durlib reasons that it must be an amulet the man had worn, and tells the boy to keep it, for: “From now on, this stone will be tied to your destiny.” They consider taking the body to the abbot of Brinkdum for a good Christian burial, but after Grimpow reads the contents of the letter in the pouch, the body dissolves into the snow “until it disappeared completely.” The tale of how this stone, the legendary lapis philosophorum, or philosopher’s stone, changes Grimpow’s life makes for one of the best written and most entertaining children’s books of the last decade in Rafael Abalos’s wonderful book Grimpow: The Invisible Road.

Solving the many mysteries and riddles of the stone leads Grimpow all across France of the early 1300s. The boy’s travels take him to the secret library of Brinkdum’s abbey, where he reads in books officially condemned by the Catholic Church about the history of the stone and gains clues as to how he should proceed further. Prior to possessing the stone, Grimpow was illiterate; once it is in his possession, he is able to understand all of the languages he sees. The stone not only can transform base metals into gold: its more miraculous power is imparting wisdom to people.

Fact and fiction are skillfully interwoven by Abalos. Grimpow’s quest for the secret of the stone, which the book calls “the secret of the wise,” leads him in the footsteps of the Knights Templar and the Ouroboros Society, a group of sages looking for wisdom and immortality - yet another gift the stone confers upon its owner. The Ouroboros Society’s symbol (depicted on the cover of Grimpow ) is a snake swallowing its tail.

The evil inquisitor Bulvar of Gotzell visits the abbey, and soon after the abbot’s throat is slit. In order to locate Aidor Biblicum, whom the dead man’s letter mentions, Grimpow takes service as the squire of the Italian knight Solietti, and they head for the city of Strausburg, with the inquisitor and his henchmen in hot pursuit. King Philip of France and Pope Clement V will go to any lengths necessary to obtain the stone, because as the head of the Templars was being burnt at the stake, he cursed them, declaring they would both die within a year. The King and Pope hope that the stone’s promise of immortality will cancel out the curse.

One of the coolest things about Grimpow is when Grimpow figures out that the positions of many of France’s cities correspond perfectly with the positions of the stars in the constellation of Virgo. There is a map of Virgo and one of the cities of France, with the Circle of Stone (where Grimpow fiures out one of the stone’s riddles) representing the star Zavijaba, Metz where Zanish is in Virgo, Rheims equaling Postina, Paris representing an unnamed star, Chartres is the star Spica, and the city of Amiens represents the star Zeta Virginis. What is above in the heavens has its equivalent on the earth.

Exploring the secrets and riddles of Grimpow and the history behind the story make the novel interactive to the reader and adds to the pleasure of reading it. Imagine if Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code) wrote a book for young adults, and perhaps mix in a touch of J.R.R. Tolkein (the famous scene in The Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins and the Gollum exchange riddles), and you’ll get an idea of what Grimpow is all about. Highly recommended for anyone who loves novels mixing fact and fantasy.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2008 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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