The well-deserved attention paid to John Crowley's most recent book, Ka, merits a fresh look at his earliest work. The Deep (1975) is a richly imagined, dark, and lyrical novel that prefigures much of what was to come.
Into a war between Black and Red factions in a semifeudal other world drops the Visitor in a silver egg from the stars. A genderless android with memory gone, he is discovered by the Endwives, nurse-coroners who attend every battle. He is adopted by the Red faction and rises rapidly through their ranks. He foils an assassination attempt by a woman of the Just, a secret guild headed by the tarot-reading Neither-Nor. The Visitor compels her to take him to the edge of the world, where Leviathan reveals its history as a colony peopled by human seed in light-driven sailships. Their tiny circular world is no more than the peak of a tower with its foundations thousands of miles below in the depths of a gas giant. The Visitor returns in his silver egg to whoever sent him, and the Just assassin returns to her world as the Woman in Red, a messianic figure preaching the cosmology she learned from Leviathan.
Have I given away too much? Not at all. The book's great pleasures are to be found in the intricate machinations of the warring factions--based on the Wars of the Roses but familiar to fans of Game of Thrones--the deeply imagined details of a Celtic medieval society, and Crowley's rich language. One detail that will never leave me is the "war viols," the stringed instruments that accompany every skirmish. This is a book to be enjoyed not only by admirers of Crowley's later work, but followers of Ursula K. LeGuin, Mervyn Peake, and--no kidding--George R. R. Martin.