fantasy and science fiction book reviewsGloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen: Being a Romance by Michael Moorcock

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGloriana (1979) is Moorcock’s homage to Mervyn Peake (author of the Gormenghast saga), and fittingly, is a lush tale of intrigue told in thoroughly British prose. At times brilliant (especially in the descriptions of the seasonal festivities), often captivating and humorous, often sluggish and overly subtle, ultimately unfulfilling, it’s a book I recommend borrowing from the library before buying. Not everyone will enjoy such decadence.

Speaking of decadence, the tale takes place in Renaissance-era Albion, the England of another world. Queen Gloriana presides, with the assistance of her counselors, over an empire of remarkable peace and prosperity: a romantic Golden Age in stark contrast to the cynical, iron rule of her father. All is not well, however, for the queen cannot — despite a veritable circus-stable of lovers male, female, both and other — achieve sexual fulfillment. (Whereas our own Queen Elizabeth was the ‘virgin queen’, in name at least, Gloriana proves quite the opposite.)

This “Queen’s Trouble”, as it’s known, correlates to the delicate balance through which peace and prosperity are preserved. And when one of her counselors makes a personal and political error of judgment, events are set in motion which threaten to topple it all; for the ‘underworld’ of the past, both figuratively and literally (in the form of the endless, forgotten rooms and passages beneath and within the palace and those who prowl them) begins to rise up and ensnare the present.

Within these mazes of intrigue (and shaping them) is an astonishing array of characters: nobles, ambassadors, spies, magicians, servants, poets and so on. However, one of the book’s main weaknesses is that, with so many characters and the story’s constantly shifting viewpoint, it’s difficult to understand or empathize with any of them. Then again, many of them are so perverse or amoral that you don’t even want to try. (E.g., one of the main characters murders at least two relative innocents to further his or her plans; and ‘kinky’ sexual activity in Albion is, so to speak, rampant.)

In the end, the means by which the Queen’s Trouble is solved was somewhat vague, disturbing and, ironically, unsatisfying. If I did understand it all correctly, though, it was also disappointing and, IMHO, had nothing of the ring of truth about it. Although Gloriana has a World Fantasy Award in its crown, I’m sorry to report that, twenty-five years later at least, the queen has no clothes. Come one, come all to the spectacle (if what’s been said above intrigues you), but don’t come with your (ahem) hopes too high.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGloriana (The Unfulfill’d Queen) — (1979) Publisher: One of Michael Moorcock’s most brilliant and highly decorated novels, here isthe story of a powerful queen whose quest for sexual satisfaction could destroy her kingdom. A fable satirizing Spenser’s The Faerie Queen and reflecting the real life of Elizabeth I, GLORIANA, OR THE UNFULFILL’D QUEEN tells of a woman who ascends to the throne upon thedeath of her debauched and corrupted father, King Hern. Gloriana’s reign brings the Empire of Albion into a GoldenAge, but her oppressive responsibilities choke her, prohibiting any form of sexual satisfaction — nomatter what fetish she tries. Her problem is in fact symbolic of the hypocrisy of her entire court. While her life is meant to mirror that of her nation — an image of purity, virtue, enlightenment and prosperity — the truth is that her peaceful empire is kept secure by her wicked chancellor Monfallcon and his corrupt network of spies and murderers, the most sinister of whom is Captain Quire, who is commissioned to seduce Gloriana and thus bring down Albion and the entire empire.


  • Rob Rhodes

    ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.