The Deep is written in a spare style that packs a considerable punch. The struggle between the Blacks and the Reds is based to a degree on the Wars of the Roses: the Blacks are the House of Lancaster, Little Black is Henry VI, his Queen is Margaret; the Reds are the House of York, Red Senlin is Richard Plantagenet, Sennred is Richard III, Red Senlin’s Son should be Edward IV, but instead seems to be modeled on Edward II. So the correspondences exist, but they are not too close, and they’re seemingly just a starting point. Crowley is not intent on telling the story of the Wars of the Roses, he has his own story to tell.
Unlike Stableford’s adaptation of Homer, in which like most heroic fantasy, the heroes are heroic, if flawed, and their greatness as fighting men is made much of, Crowley’s adaptation of English history stresses his characters’ overwhelming selfishness and deceitfulness. Redhand and his wife are the only ones with any sense of decency or nobility. Throughout the book we are given a feeling of cyclical inevitability, that the struggle being waged is one that has gone on forever and is destined never to change. The Grays are the holders of Learning, and are uncovering an image that depicts a senseless round of brutality, one king succeeding another in unending succession:
“Crowned men with red tears running from their eyes held hands as children’s cutouts do, but each twisted in a different attitude, of joy or pain he couldn’t tell, for of course they all smiled with teeth. Behind and around them, gripping them like lovers, were black figures, obscure, demons or ghosts. Each crown had burning within it a fire, and the grinning black things tore tongue and organs from this king and with them fed the fire burning in the crown of that one, tore that one’s body to feed the fire burning in this one’s crown, and so on around, demon and king, like a tortured circle dance.”
Into this world comes the Visitor. He arrives damaged, with no clear idea of what his mission is. During the course of the novel he learns the history of this land and uncovers the reason he was sent. The world was created by a God-like entity only identified as the brother of Leviathan. He found men who worshipped him and he brought them to this world and gave them what he thought they wanted most. Apparently they wanted immortality, and what he gave them was not exactly that; what he gave them was changelessness. They exist in a world that is maintained in such fashion that nothing ever changes: there is never any progress, and the population never grows. This is done by sending visitors from time to time to lead the world into mayhem, death and destruction in order to keep the population down. However, this time the Visitor departs without fulfilling this purpose and Nod, who was with the Visitor when he learned the truth, has recorded what he learned, and at the end it looks like the world, which up till now has existed outside of time, is going to break out of the deadly circle it has been in.
This is a subtle and well-crafted novel. Crowley manages, by virtue of the very sparseness of his prose, to convey a certain amount of empathy with even his most unlikable characters. Most of them die simple, unglamorous deaths, which serve to underline the chaos of battle and the needlessness of human suffering.