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Gloriana; or, The Unfulfill'd Queen    by Michael Moorcock order for
by Michael Moorcock
Order:  USA  Can
Aspect, 2004 (1969)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Michael Moorcock is best known as the author of the Elric saga, a very noir fantasy series, which I've always found depressing, though well conceived. Gloriana is a different creation entirely, though still somewhat on the dark side. Moorcock dedicates the book to the memory of Mervyn Peake, whose work clearly influenced this fantasy.

The author takes us into an alternate (parallel?) world, in which Elizabeth I of Albion rules over a sprawling, peaceful Empire, and resides in a Gormenghast-like Palace, full of dark secrets. The public rooms are surrounded by a shadowed realm of secret, cobwebbed chambers and passages, filled with odd, leftover characters. Moorcock's Elizabeth is not a Virgin Queen. In fact, she's almost the opposite. She has a bunch of bastard children by different fathers and constantly seeks (in pretty decadent ways), but fails to achieve, physical release - hence the 'Unfullfill'd' in the subtitle.

As in our own history, Gloriana juggles and keeps at bay suitors - in this case mild Casimir the elected King of Poland and the warlike Grand Caliph of Arabia. The Queen's spymaster, Lord Montfallcon, ruthlessly eliminates all threats to ruler and realm, with Captain Quire (who treats sordid manipulation as a high art) as his willing tool. We see Quire coldly destroy two young people for his own pleasure and use. Later, feeling misunderstood by his mentor, he works for the Arabians to foment trouble, murder, and corruption at Court. Quire eventually inveigles himself into Court life, close to Elizabeth.

A marvellous construct, Moorcock's Gloriana is as full of contrasts as the Queen's magnificently decadent Palace. Elizabeth is elegant, controlled and virtuous, yet indulges in debauchery in her endless search for 'satisfaction' in physical love. And she finally achieves it in an unusual, ironic ending.

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