The Deep

The Deep - John Crowley Review edited after June 2013 re-read

4-4.5 stars

This is a great, weird, crazy little sf-fantasy that I love for reasons I can't really put my finger on. Crowley's ability to simply write is obviously one of the elements that works in the book's favour, though my review of [b:Little Big|2612|The Tipping Point How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference|Malcolm Gladwell||2124255] will show that, in my opinion at least, that isn't always enough to carry a Crowley book.

I can (and did) easily imagine this as a movie from the 70's with David Bowie starring as the enigmatic Visitor from the stars (a role he is familiar with) as he wanders in an amnesiac haze through the strange flat-earth world created by Crowley. Throughout his journey he witnesses the internecine wars of the Reds and the Blacks, the two reigning groups of aristocrats (who seem to be something of an amalgam of playing cards and chess pieces...though more fleshed out than that description implies) along with the guerilla resistance of the Just.

There's obviously a fairly strong allegorical element to this tale, and normally I don't like that, but Crowley manages to overcome this and still make his characters people, despite their obvious archetypes. Crowley's concerns with examining how human power corrupts, even when used with the best of intentions, and the idea of examining how a closed system will develop when only certain known external factors are allowed to be introduced were interesting, but ultimately I think this book's success lies in the fact that it was a story easy to get lost in and simply enjoy from start to finish.

June 2013 re-read thoughts: The underlying allegorical aspect of the Red/Black dichotomy (referencing both playing cards and chess...I mean these characters live out their lives on a flat-earth ‘playing board’!) is definitely strong. To add to the confusion many of the characters, especially those in the Red camp, have names so similar as to be utterly confusing at first. Despite this, though, I can really feel for them and they each grow into unique and complex individuals that live and breathe in a way that is real to me: Fauconred the old and trusted retainer, not too bright, but handy in a pinch and with a healthy dose of common sense; Learned Redhand and Sennred, the men who come to realize to what their loyalty must be given no matter the personal cost to themselves; Redhand, the proud and aristocratic warrior who is not above doing what is expedient, yet whose moral centre is not without a keen sense of honour; Red Senlin’s Son and Younger Redhand, one a king at once venal and grasping, yet driven by love (or is it hate?), the other a younger son and brother trying desperately to live up to the family members he worships, both touched by madness; Caredd, the loving and perhaps naïve wife, whose inner strength and compassion proves to be the bedrock for more than one man. The story itself is a story of circles, repetition, of changeless change. Something new has happened though and while we seem to end where we began it becomes apparent that something new has occurred, a twist in the pattern that just might be a newness that bears seed and grows, not one that reinforces the old way-worn paths.

Crowley is just so deft and precise in his characterization and plotting in this book that I wonder why he felt the need to ‘evolve’ towards doorstopper tomes and multi-volume epics (that are unfortunately mainly populated by uninteresting or unsympathetic characters and seem to me a bit scatter-shot in their execution)*sigh*. Final judgement: still a great read that displays to perfection how an author can use brevity and conciseness to build a whole world.