You expect any successful idea to be borrowed and for a rash of imitations to be produced further down the line, but even I never expected to find some of the ideas behind "The Da Vinci Code" to make it into a book for younger readers. But that is what "Grimpow - The Invisible Road" does, combining the idea of Knights Templar with the fantasy adventure of "Eragon" or "Northern Lights" and producing something that is thoroughly enjoyable.
Grimpow is a young boy living a hand to mouth existence with his friend Durlib, but this all changes one day when they come across the body of a dead knight lying in the snow. As they go through the dead man's possessions, his body vanishes, leaving Grimpow with a large stone, which seems to give him certain knowledge he never had before.
The stone also gives Grimpow the compulsion to follow the Knight's journey and to deliver the scroll with the message in the strange language that was also part of his belongings. The further down the road Grimpow goes, the more depth he discovers to the mystery. It seems that some people suspect the Knights Templar of holding valuable secrets and there are some who will stop at nothing, even all out war, to gain those secrets.
Things start a little slowly, but once they pick up, this becomes an enjoyable adventure tale, combining the elements of fantasy in the stone with the adventures of the past, with jousting knights and damsels in distress. Whilst other characters assist him along the way, this is very much a tale of Grimpow and I found it surprisingly easy to share the boy's wonderment and enthusiasm for the adventure before him. Being in the wrong age group for the book, I didn't feel that I could relate to him directly, but I was able to get involved enough to care about the success or failure of his quest.
It is just as well that Grimpow is such a likeable character, as there wasn't a great amount of balance with the bad guys. It was always obvious which side you were supposed to be cheering for as a reader and doing so was easy, but there never seemed much of a threat from the bad guys. Despite the fact that they were doing nasty things and responsible for certain bad events, I never really got the feeling that there was a truly credible threat to Grimpow and his quest and it was more of a problem solving adventure than a race against time. Whilst this didn't matter too much as it was still quite an exciting adventure, I did feel that there could have been more emphasis on that part of things, as it would have increased the excitement still further.
The treasure trail side of things was also very interesting, as the clues were set up such that only someone with a specific interest in astrology would guess some of the clues. There were a couple that I spotted the answer to before the characters, but even then, I had no way of guessing what would come next, which kept me reading on. Unlike "The Da Vinci Code", the clues seemed to be set at the level of the characters and there was never any feeling that they had specific knowledge that would make solving the clues easier for them and so when the answers did come, they didn't seem too obvious for either me or the characters.
My one main criticism of the story would be that the pacing didn't seem to be quite balanced. It started a little slowly, with Grimpow learning a lot before leaving for his quest and then the quest itself seemed to be squeezed in a little bit at the end. There was a point towards the end where the book was running out of pages but there still seemed to be plenty of clues to unravel and it all ended in a bit of a rush. This did help keep things exciting, but it all felt a bit crammed in to me. That said, the younger reader who the book is aimed at may just be able to enjoy the events without worrying about how many are coming up too quickly.
Whilst I don't believe I'm in the target audience for the book, the ease with which I was dragged into Grimpow's story suggests that as an adventure story, this is a huge success for readers of any age. Those who have previously enjoyed the likes of Christopher Paolini and Philip Pullman will almost certainly enjoy this, especially if you can find a copy at the Amazon Marketplace from £1.35, as opposed to paying the £5.24 that the main Amazon site is asking for, as whilst this is an exciting book, it's not one that would stand up to repeated readings.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk