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REVIEW: The Knights of the Cornerstone by James P. Blaylock

REVIEW SUMMARY: An oddly unassuming tale of miracles and wonders in the Nevada desert that deals with the Knights Templar, the Veil of Veronica and various other Christian mysteries in a way that makes them seem almost plausible.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Calvin travels to New Cyprus, Nevada, where he is challenged to change his life and become one of the Knights Templar.


PROS: The story is comfortable and pleasing, but just quirky enough to keep the reader slightly and happily off balance.

CONS: Despite murder and miracles, this book is strangely lacking in tension or urgency.

BOTTOM LINE: Not one of Blaylock’s best books, but head and shoulders above the likes of The Da Vinci Code on some of the same themes.

Calvin is a pleasant enough young man living in Southern California who, at the age of 34, finds himself with nothing much to do and no desire to do much besides play about with rare books. He has the means to live a sufficiently comfortable life, so long as he doesn’t squander the money his parents left him when they died. He has no girlfriend; his last one left him because of his lack of ambition. When the novel opens, therefore, Calvin is ripe for weirdness to descend upon him.

The universe and Calvin’s extended family oblige. A strange package arrives from a cousin, addressed to an uncle, the same day an odd letter comes from that same uncle pleading that Calvin visit him in Nevada. The package, Calvin’s cousin tells him in a telephone call, holds a family heirloom, a spiritualist aunt’s gossamer veil, that tends to float around if you don’t watch it carefully, and he can’t really trust it to further public transport. This is already strange, since it’s made it from Iowa to Southern California (though, frankly, that delivery man didn’t look like standard issue UPS). But Calvin figures he really owes his uncle and aunt a visit anyway, especially since his aunt has cancer and may be in her final days. Despite his reluctance to do anything but readdress the package and send it on to Nevada by UPS, Calvin loads up his car and heads for the desert.

Things start to get strange pretty fast as the vegetation thins. At the Gas’n’Go Antiques and Café, when Calvin stops to get his uncle some grape Nehi soda, the packaged veil is stolen out of his trunk. The owner of the store calmly hands him an identical package to take to his uncle. Calvin shrugs and heads on to New Cyprus, a town in a bend of the Colorado River.

Once in New Cyprus, Calvin is exposed to oddness at every turn, but somehow, to the reader at least, they don’t seem especially strange. Perhaps this is because the residents of New Cyprus don’t treat them that way; they are merely part of life. Floating drink coasters, tables that sprout living branches, and decanters that reassemble themselves after earthquakes are all taken as normal. From the moment Calvin arrives, his aunt and uncle start trying to persuade him to become a “Knight” – a group that “serve[s] a higher power,” as his aunt explains, and to which most residents of New Cyprus belong. They also suggest, with some rather powerful arguments in favor, that Calvin stay in New Cyprus. Once they introduce him to Donna, a waitress at the Cozy Diner, he’s pretty much a goner.

But what really induces him to stay, it seems, is the mystery of New Cyprus. Calvin stops at a bookstore called Fourteen Carats Press, where the owner is oddly suspicious of him from the moment he walks in the door. The owner doesn’t seem to take the oddities of New Cyprus with quite the aplomb that most of its residents do, and he fills Calvin in a bit on what’s going on. Mostly that appears to be an attempt by some very, very bad men to overthrow the Knights and obtain their wealth as well as New Cyprus, part and parcel. What, exactly, does that mean? Calvin begins to notice all of the silver there is around him, as well as the fact that suddenly his aunt seem to be feeling a whole lot better, and just where did that mysterious veil go?

The pace quickens when Calvin realizes he has to make some decisions about who he is, what he is going to do with his life, and even what he believes about the meaning of life. It isn’t too much to say that he must decide if he sides with the forces of good or the forces of evil or just the forces of I-don’t-want-to-get-involved. He is truly given the room to make the choice, an interesting option for Blaylock to choose: this is no man upon whom greatness is thrust. Rather, in this book the obligation to live a life of meaning, to do more than simply live, is explored.

This book is quiet and somehow oddly gentle despite the presence of catapults, water cannons, raging rivers, dead bodies and mysteries. I left it with a sense of peace and calm, a sense that things turn out well when people take responsibility and make the right decisions about the things that truly matter. In other words, it is a hopeful book. This isn’t one of Blaylock’s best books – it’s hard to beat The Rainy Season and The Last Coin, after all – but it is a far better book than many others that deal with Christian mythology in a much more frenetic manner.

1 Comment on REVIEW: The Knights of the Cornerstone by James P. Blaylock

  1. Blaylock can be a lot of fun. I prefer Tim Powers (or the two of them together). It’s interesting to see the “American Mythology” that they come up with.

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