Ratings are invidious, equally it is difficult for most people to name any one novel, or record, or film which they value above all others. So I cant tell you that Aegypt is the best book I have ever read, or even that it is my favourite, there are simply too many others I have loved to make such a claim. However, it is one of those which will always spring to mind if anyone ever asks me.
It is not an easy novel to describe, the story is so rich, so varied and so strange as to defy easy explanations. The central character is Pierce Moffat, historian, out of work and on the verge of losing any sense of that the world is as we would think it to be. His obsession is the arcarna of late medieval Europe, and he knows that their world was so different from ours that we can hardly call it the same place. In his company and the company of Bruno and John Dee (two genuine figures from the 16th century) we are led through meeting with angels, and maybe other powers, who existence is so tenuous that we cant ever be certain they are there. As the backwards leap into the other world unfolds, Pierces actual life, changes. His leaving of his job, his city (New York) and almost all his former habits, and his move to a New England Arcadian idyll in is brought to life with such beautiful prose. Crowley's descriptive passages of the rivers and the people of this country are as delightful as anything else written.
Yet at its heart the novel is a mystery, a question about the nature of belief and truth and how one can influence, inform, or even radically alter the other. How the world is not a set of rules, but a set of perceptions that we make and change according to our needs and our desires. It sets us a philosophical conundrum and answers is with stunning elegance.
This barely begins to tell the features in the landscape of the book, as there are several other strands of the story on which I have not touched. A beautiful novel and the first of four.