Courting Dragons (A King’s Fool mystery, 1)

Written by Jeri Westerson
Review by Fiona Alison

Whatever our views on the medieval royal habit of keeping jesters, dwarves and Blackamoors as ‘pets’, deploying Will Somers as an amateur sleuth at the court of Henry VIII proves intriguing. With unrestricted licence to go anywhere, speak in any way to anyone, call the king ‘Harry’, and make fools of us all, Will goes about unseen and ignored.

History affords us only sparse glimpses of Henry’s fool, so Westerson has made her fictional Will bisexual. When his handsome new Spanish emissary friend is brutally murdered, Will seeks retribution. Helping with his enquiries is the long-time love of his life, Marion (absolutely at one with his proclivities), who he dearly wishes to marry, if only permission from her father were forthcoming. Will knows one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies is lying when she says she was in the Spaniard’s bed (because he was), but he cannot destroy her alibi without losing the king’s confidence and possibly his own head. After witnessing another murder, Will discovers that not all bloodshed at court is necessarily political.

Written as a murder mystery, this feels like narrative commentary on the Tudor court in general and King Henry in particular, as Will Somers may have known his king’s conscience better than anyone else in the world. This is a complex tale played out on the political chessboard of the time, primarily Henry’s Great Matter and a Spanish plot. I particularly liked the fond memories Will has of Queen Catherine and Princess Mary, and could picture him sorely missing those family times spent with Henry and his wife and daughter outside of court demands. Events play out using fictional characters, but many historical figures are expertly woven into the narrative and have key roles.