Gloriana (1979) is Moorcock's homage to Mervyn Peake (author of the Gormenghast saga), and just as one might expect, it 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. The monarch of the book's title 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 am 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.
2-1/2 stars. A recommendation instead for _A Song for Arbonne_ by Guy Gavriel Kay and _Ombria in Shadow_ by Patricia McKillip.