Glorianna (1978) by Michael Moorcock is one of those novels that refuses to let itself get stuffed into a box, even though, by the end, you absolutely feel like stuffing it into a box. Often feeling more like a 1800's serial with its effusive narrative and idyllic pacing, the tale sits atop vicious powermongering and overly perfect villains. The tale demonstrates why fantasy should take a right turn off the browbeaten path and the hazards of taking such a direction.
(As a mild warning, here be rape culture. If you want, I can point out the page and paragraphs, but when you get there, you'll not need me to point out a thing.)
The novel earns its lauds through Moorcock's chops and literary ambitions, because where this narrative works, it works unwarrantedly well. The vast bulk of the violence of this novel takes place off stage, with the players aghast at the bloodshed. Indeed, I know of few fantasy novels so acutely aware of the humanity of all the characters, even the minor ones, so that when they die, they other characters both mourn and miss them.
I quite enjoyed the court itself, which wasn't merely all characters orbiting the Queen. Not only did the court function, but everyone in the court had a job,
Where this narrative fails, it fails in proportion to its ambitions. In many places, the narrative reaches a profuseness that demonstrates why we don't write like those wordy serials any more, where the text literally doesn't matter, providing no more than color. Likewise, the narrative often skims over developments should have been written out, instead summarizing what should have been interesting developments.
I suspect that the novel is operating on a level that I am too ill-educated to recognize, making me suspect that the whole things is a tragedy del arte, but with so many of the characters poorly formed, our view of the writer's vision is obscured by his own cleverness.
On the whole, I would compare this book to a wonderful looking building filled with frescoes and gilded furniture, but built ad hoc with shoddy materials. Walk through it, and the whole structure seems fabulous, but it's built on unsteady pillars and ill conceived hacks, that once identified, makes you wonder how the whole thing stands up in the first place. By all rights, this book should collapse under its own weight, and for many, I imagine that it does. For me, as story reach its final and happy conclusion, the entire tale imploded under its own weight.
I can't recommend the book unless you are particularly committed to reading it. It's a product of its time, leaping high, and landing on its face.