fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review: Grimpow: The Invisible Road Rafael Abalos Grimpow: The Invisible Road by Rafael Abalos

Grimpow: The Invisible Road was written for young adults by Spanish lawyer Rafael Abalos and translated to English after its success in Europe. The story is a medieval mystery/historical fantasy set in early 14th century Europe. Grimpow is an illiterate orphan who stumbles upon the dead body of one of the last of the Knights Templar who was on a quest to secure the philosopher’s stone from the grasp of King Philip IV and Pope Clement V. The king and pope, in order to get control of the stone and its promise of wealth and wisdom, had accused the Knights of heresy and were in the process of eliminating them. On the dead knight, Grimpow finds a letter, a seal, and a magical stone which gives him the ability to understand written languages and the desire to find wisdom. He takes up the search for wisdom while trying to keep the stone out of the hands of King Philip’s inquisitor.

The book’s pace is slow at first, while Grimpow spends a lot of time in an abbey reading forbidden scientific manuscripts and questioning the monks. There’s a lot of reading and talking going on, and not much action. I got the impression that Abalos was using this as “teaching time” and we get a few mini-lectures on history, astronomy, mythology, geometry, mathematics, architecture, the arts, alchemy, and the nature of God and wisdom. There’s a lot of name-dropping going on here, too:  Aristotle, Socrates, Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Plato, etc.

Things pick up when Grimpow, who has become very wise by this time, decides it’s time to leave to search for wisdom. So he becomes the squire of an Italian knight who, though Grimpow doesn’t know it yet, has some connections with the Templars and the sages who discovered the stone centuries before. Eventually they join up with a beautiful woman who is also involved in the search for wisdom. The three of them work together to solve a series of clues and riddles during their search.

Overall, the writing is very good (no worries about the translation), except that the dialogue is often stilted and formal (“There is a fire in the village of Cornhill. And I think the wind is dragging the screams of battle and laments of death. Let’s go and see what’s happening.”), there are a few tired similes (“Durlib knew that hostile snow-covered region like the back of his hand.”), and we are often told the motivation behind speeches or questions: someone is pretending, joking, flattering, feigning confusion, or expressing anger. Also, there was little description of what the main characters looked like, and the beautiful lady, who was instrumental in solving clues, had the personality of a pancake.

I thought some of the characters had unrealistic reactions after learning that Grimpow was carrying the famed philosopher’s stone. I mean, if I met a kid with the philosopher’s stone, I’d at least say “can I see it?” but Grimpow’s allies didn’t. But what bugged me most were the huge logical leaps in puzzle and riddle solving. Grimpow and the pretty pancake lady came up with these outrageous solutions to riddles that turned out to be correct. I can’t give examples, or that will ruin the story, but let me just say that the riddle solutions are so far-fetched that it’s no use to try to figure them out for yourself.

But, I remind myself that this story was written for middle school kids, and I’m thirty something. This is a well-told and well-written story with an interesting historical background and likeable characters, and the stuff I rolled my eyes at might be fun and exciting for a youngster.

One caution for Christian parents: This story deals with the corruption of the Catholic church in the middle ages, and this is done mostly accurately (except, of course for the fantasy elements such as the philosopher’s stone). However, at the end of the novel, it is suggested that humans reach the pinnacle of wisdom when we become equal to God. Parents who consider this heresy will want to discuss that with their kids.

I listened to Grimpow on audio. The reader does a good job, except that one character sounds like a mobster and another has an inexplicable German accent. But, if you can suppress your giggles, the audio version works well for this story.

Published in 2007. Young adult. Publisher: Grimpow had no idea who the dead man was, but hidden in his leather bag was a treasure that would change his life forever. Ruby and emerald encrusted daggers, silver coins, jewels, and a letter with a golden seal depicting a snake swallowing its own tail. And clutched in the man’s firm grip — a stone. A stone that will shape Grimpow’s destiny. For when he holds it, strange things begin to happen. Visions of places he’s never been fill his mind and he’s able to read the strange language in the letter, a message meant for someone else entirely. So begins Grimpow’s journey with the stone — a centuries-long journey that has driven sane men crazy, turned peaceful men violent, and made strong men powerless. No man has ever unlocked its secrets. But no boy has ever tried.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

    View all posts