Courting Dragons

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Pub Date 03 Jan 2023 | Archive Date 31 Dec 2022

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Description

Introducing Will Somers, the king's jester but nobody's fool in this exuberant, intriguing and thoroughly entertaining mystery set in Tudor England – the first in a new series from the author of the critically acclaimed Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series.


1529, London. Jester Will Somers enjoys an enviable position at the court of Henry VIII. As the king's entertainer, chief gossip-monger, spy and loyal adviser, he knows all of the king's secrets – and almost everyone else's within the walls of Greenwich Palace.

But when Will discovers the body of Spanish count Don Gonzalo while walking his trusted sidekick Nosewise in the courtyard gardens, and a blackmail note arrives soon after demanding information about the king, is one of his own closely guarded secrets about to be exposed? Trouble is afoot at the palace. Are the king's enemies plotting a move against him? Will must draw on all his wit and ingenuity to get to the bottom of the treacherous and deadly goings-on at the court before further tragedy strikes . . .

Introducing Will Somers, the king's jester but nobody's fool in this exuberant, intriguing and thoroughly entertaining mystery set in Tudor England – the first in a new series from the author of the...


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Featured Reviews

I really enjoyed reading this, I liked the concept of a mystery going on with a king's jester. I enjoyed getting to know Will Somers, he was a interesting character and I really enjoyed getting to know him. It was a really interesting mystery and I thought it was a unique take on a historical mystery. I enjoyed the way Jeri Westerson wrote this and hope there is more in this universe.

"‘It could be a magical creature, like a nymph or faery in disguise. Oh, you mustn’t laugh, Harry. For one never knows. Don’t you ever daydream of such? Have you ever climbed a hill and lain upon the grass and simply looked up to the clouds and saw … oh, such things as you could see in them?’ For when we had a view of the plains and the sky, I could see mountains of clouds hanging like drapery in the blue heavens."

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I have been making a concerted effort to read more first-person novels. It hasn't always worked though. In this case, it did. An interesting mystery set in the court of Henry VIII, told from the viewpoint of Wil Somers, court jester to the king. The mystery was good...what struck me was the somewhat open acceptance of Somers' sexuality. I've read a great deal about the Tudors, and never read anything about Somers that would match how that aspect of him was portrayed in this book. Poetic license is a cool thing though...it allows a completely different side of a particular person/character to emerge. Kudos to the author on exploring this in the space of Tudor history.

Thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for this advanced review copy, which I voluntarily read. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Thank you to Netgalley and Severn House for the ARC. Will Somers is King Henry VIII's fool, his jester. He hails from Shropshire and came to court at age 20 in the year 1525. Not much is known about him but he was around clear until Queen Elizabeth I. This first in the mystery series starring Will is about the time of The Great Matter. King Henry VIII is trying to end his 20 plus year marriage to Queen Catherine. Queen Catherine was married to his older brother Arthur for a short time until Arthur died. There was even a special dispensation that allowed King Henry VIII to marry Queen Catherine, on the grounds that her marriage to his brother Arthur hadn't been consummated.

King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine only had one living child, a girl. The King desired, nay, needed a male heir. It was on this basis and some scripture that he was seeking a divorce. The Court was divided on the topic but knew which way things were going. Queen Catherine and her daughter Princess Mary were all but abandoned. Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII's intended, was now the center of the Court. This is where we find ourselves in this book.

As the jester, Will is granted license to say things across the line, be a close companion to the King, and be privy to much gossip. What better person to stumble upon a murder? Will is blackmailed for personal reasons and seeks revenge for the victim he found and was briefly acquainted with. Will is funny, clever, daring and a great insight into daily Court life. I enjoyed the characters, both fictional and real. I love all things Tudor so of course I had to read this. The ending was a little surprising but not as interesting as I hoped. Nonetheless, engaging read and a series I will be watching!

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Courting Dragons is the first novel in the ‘A King’s Fool’ series. Following the adventures of Will Somers, Henry 8ths Jester. Being allowed to speak his mind on the escapades of others in court greatly aids in keeping his own secrets hidden, until Will Somers has relations with the wrong man; Don Gonzalo, who he finds dead not long after.

I had a great time reading this book as it blends genres that I thoroughly enjoy; Historical Fiction and Murder/Mystery. A classic who-dun-it wrapped up in a Tudor English setting, right at the heart of the sovereign court. The characters are engaging and relateable, Will Somers is a flawed character in many ways which makes him entertaining and realistic. His vices are counter-productive to every-day living within his setting, but he has them all the same. His relationships with those around him are spectacularly written and captivating. But, it is his fears and reactions to the events unfolding around him, how they personally impact him, that drive the story onwards.

As the story unfolds and each of the clues are revealed, the reader is drawn further into the intricacies of royal court and the unique relationship that Will has with King Henry are endearing. His worries over his families and a rather pressing matter troubling Henry 8th offer a refreshing insight into what was at stake in the royal court – Henry 8th at this point is struggling to produce an heir with his current wife and seeking to find a way to annul his marriage; anyone with a basic understanding of English history knows the final outcome of these events, but the details within offer some clue as to how the people involved would have felt. This is also a part of the plot line, as tensions between England and Spain run rampant, only to be made worse by the discovery of a Spanish ambassadors body.

I felt for Will as he was thrust into the events unfolding around him and following his journey of discovery was intriguing. A Fool isn’t the sort of character you expect to be a detective, but in the setting and story-telling he makes perfect sense; able to go places, say things and witness events in a way that others couldn’t.

As the story reaches its conclusion all the threads are wrapped up nicely and make viable sense. Always a good thing in a murder/mystery novel. I truly adored my time with this book, the plot and the characters within. I felt a sense of dread when Will Somers put himself in dangers way and I was worried at times that his secrets would be uncovered. I felt my heart in my mouth when the fate of his lover was uncertain.

I wish to express a little bit of love for the wonderful character Nosewise, Will Somers trusty side-kick. He is a fantastic little dog that really lifts the characters he surrounds, making them feel much more complete. Also, the level of believability written into Somers job, the addition of his fools-tools, make him feel completely realistic and is a credit to Jeri Westerson’s research before writing. The authors note at the end of the book was fantastic, it was brilliant to read that Will Somers was a real person. I am captivated and eagerly await more in the new series and to know what Will, will get up to next!

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1529 will Somers is Henry VIII's court jester. When he discovers his lover murdered he decides to investigate. But because the court is surrounded by intrigue he must be careful for can he always be confident of the trust given to him by the king. But soon there will be another death.
Being ambivalent about the main character does distract from the story for me.
Overall an enjoyable and well-written historical mystery. A good start to this new series.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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It's the time of the Tudors in England and Will Smith, King's Fool, is thrown into a mystery to solve and perhaps save the king. Will Smith is charming, smart and sly and if anyone can solve this one it is Will...but not without a possible cost including revealing one of Will's long kept secrets. Ms Westerson's gives us the first in an upcoming series featuring Smith the Fool and she tells a lively and engaging story from beginning to end.

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Jeri Westerson, author of the Crispin Guest medieval noir mysteries, kicks off a new historical mystery series with Courting Dragons. Will Somers actually was the jester to Henry VIII through his reign, then jester to all of Henry’s children, including Elizabeth I. This book is the first King’s Fool mystery, featuring a character who had access to all of the court, knew their secrets, and is the perfect amateur sleuth.

“A jester walked a fine line between distraction and destruction.” By 1529, Will Somers had been the jester for Henry VIII for four years. He’s young, only twenty-four, and a favorite of the king, with his own seat just below Henry’s at the table, and allowed even into the king’s bedchamber. He’s a subtle advisor to the king, putting gossip and ideas into ridiculous song and rhyme. But, there’s an atmosphere of fear in the court in 1529, as Henry waits to see if the Pope will allow him to divorce his first wife, Catherine, in order to marry his current love, Nan Bullen. The Spanish ambassador and his retinue are waiting, supporting Catherine of Aragon, but having to be adept in their dealings with the English court. Will constantly juggles his admiration for the queen and her daughter, Mary, with his love and allegiance to the king.

But, Will’s personal affections are easily swayed. He beds Don Gonzalo de Yscar, an aide to the Spanish ambassador. The next day, Will’s dog, Nosewise, finds Gonzalo’s body in the gardens. Then Will receives a blackmail note, threatening to reveal his romantic actions unless Will spies on the king. Will turns to his lover, Marion, for advice. She knows him well; knows his duty to the king as well as his fickleness in flitting from man to woman in his romantic life. Marion loves Will, and she’s willing to help him in his plans to uncover a blackmailer.

As threats, attacks, and murders occur, though, Will is soon looking for a killer. His life as the king’s fool is already a dangerous, political one, always at the beck and call of Henry, assuring the king, while also acting as his conscience at times. Now, Will adds a role as an amateur detective, searching for a killer at court.

Westerson’s books are never easy to read. Her books are filled with the details of English history of the time, with all of the religious and political turmoil. Courting Dragons is fascinating for someone who appreciates the intrigue, politics, and history of the Tudor court. With the promise of future books, it’s easy to see that Will will be caught up in all of the political maneuvering and marriage issues that took place in Henry VIII’s lifetime. As an actual historical figure who managed to survive all those years in the court, it’s obvious that Will Somers grows to be a shrewd, political creature. We meet the king’s fool as a young romantic figure tiptoeing through minefields in this book. People who want to read a fictional account of Henry VIII’s court, set in a mystery with the perfect amateur sleuth, should be ready for in-depth historical details in Courting Dragons.

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1529, Greenwich Palace, London, at the court of King Henry VIII. Will Somers is the king’s jester – and the king’s source of gossip and advice, possibly the only person in the court to be honest with the temperamental monarch. And these are difficult times for Henry, as he is tiring of his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and a young woman called Anne has caught his eye.

The Spanish court are less keen on Henry abandoning Catherine, and an group of Spanish nobles are also present at Greenwich. When Will finds one of them dead in the Palace gardens, he knows that trouble has arrived. Not just the fact that someone from a foreign power has been killed, but also that Will spent the previous night in bed with the man. And a blackmail note has just arrived…

I was rather intrigued when I saw this one pop up on NetGalley, as I’ve read one book by Jeri Westerson, and while I enjoyed it, I felt that, having crashed into the middle of a long-running series, I was missing out on the backstory of the main character. So having said that, seeing this was the start of a series, I thought I’d get in on the ground floor.

Will is an interesting character, for the most part – see the caveat below – and the idea of a character being overlooked by most people while searching for the truth isn’t exactly new, using the role of the fool in that role works well. The book seems well-researched and the both the descriptions and mechanics of court life run true. The relationship between Henry and Will seems very convincing and the machinations of various bodies around the court work well to build up the suspicion that danger lurks around every corner. Add in Will’s determination to be taken seriously by his true love’s father while needing to play the fool when anyone is watching, and you’ve a story with plenty of moving parts.

There are a couple of caveats. One is pretty minor, namely that the surprise about the motive won’t come as a surprise to people who have read a few mystery novels. The other… well, maybe this is me, but I don’t understand how someone can have a true love that he wants to marry and spend the rest of his life with, but also need to have sex with a handful of various men around the court as well. That’s not how love works for me but there are plenty of things I don’t understand in the world. The fact that if Will’s bisexuality is discovered, he’d be executed, yet he seems to have a number of lovers around the palace, at least one of them being rather indiscreet about the whole thing, however…

All in all though, I enjoyed this historical mystery. It’s got a nice number of suspects and motives, a mostly convincing lead character and a convincing picture of life in the Tudor court. I look forward to book two.

Courting Dragons is out from Severn House in the UK in hardback and ebook on 3rd January 2023 – yeah, this review is a bit early. Oops. Many thanks for the review e-copy.

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Masterful and I cannot wait for more from this author and series. Well written, immersive, and a delight to read. It easily transports the reader and allows them to lose themselves in a different time and place. The story is so well done that it gives you a bit of a book hangover once completed.

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A new series from Westerson! Set in 1929 it blends real history with an imaginative look at solving crime during the Tudor period. Will Sommers is King Henry VIII's jester and he walks a narrow path between worlds- between close access to the King and his own back story. The politics of this period sometimes leave me scratching my head but as usual Westeron has a way of making it more engaging than dry- and I learned something. Thanks to netgalley for the Arc. A good read and I'm looking forward to the next one.

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A great start to a new series…

Fans of Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest “Medieval Noir” series will also enjoy the first book in her new King’s Fool series, Courting Dragons. This series features Will Somers, Henry VIII’s court jester, as the protagonist, and to be sure, there’s less noir, but all the key elements are still there: Westerson still drops an engaging fictional puzzle into a well-researched and finely-drawn historical background, to come up with a book that’s hard to put down. And in place of the noir, Will, who as a jester is able to go almost anywhere, listen in on almost anything, and make fun of almost anyone, turns out to have the makings of a fine detective.

Set during the time when Henry has not yet broken with the Catholic church, but is definitely trying to figure out how to divorce Queen Catherine in favor of the younger, and (hopefully) more fertile Anne, there are plenty of political machinations going on. So when Don Gonzalo de Yscar, a member of the Spanish Embassy to Henry’s court, is murdered, Will (who happened to have slept with him the night before) tries to figure out whether the motive is political? Or personal? Or did Don Gonzalo simply have some enemy from the past? Will’s recently acquired dog, Nosewise, and main romantic interest, Marion, help him along the way. But you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Along with the mystery, it was fascinating to watch Will navigate his betwixt-and-between status (not nobility, but with almost unequalled access to Henry, highly-regarded, and well compensated), and grow up a bit as his investigations became more serious. In a similar line, it was also interesting to watch the way illegitimate, but openly acknowledged, children were part of the court. And it was possible to see the beginnings of Will’s long tenure as court jester in the way he manages to visit and stay on good terms with Queen Catherine and Princess Mary, while also somehow developing a rapport with Anne Boleyn. (Per Westerson’s excellent historical note at the end, the real Will Somers was the court jester all the way from Henry’s reign into that of Queen Elizabeth I.)

Hopefully, Will’s long tenure will provide Westerson with plenty of opportunities to write more Will Somers books, because on a personal level, I, for one, will be looking forward to the next one. Which is, apparently, already in the works. Yay! And to more of Nosewise and Marion. And finally, my thanks to Severn House and NetGalley for the advance review copy.

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Henry VIII was always a towering, larger-than-life figure, even before he became the obese caricature of himself that has become the popular image of him. Just as he loomed large over the life of his court and everyone in it, so too he dominates this historical mystery told from, not Henry’s point of view, but through the eyes of his fool, or court jester, William Somers.

Who was every bit as real a person – whether or not he resembles the character in this story – as the king he served.

If you remember the old doggerel, “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived” as a way of tracking Henry VIII’s six wives, this story takes place in 1529, in the midst of the long and ultimately futile negotiations between Henry and Pope Clement VII in regards to that first divorce, sometimes referred to as the King’s Great Matter.

Which it most certainly was.

So the court is in ferment, divided between the rapidly waning star of the old queen, Catherine of Aragon, and the woman who will be the next queen, Anne Boleyn. Tension is everywhere among the usual cutthroat jockeying for favor and position that was always an integral part of serving in the King’s court.

Will Somers, the king’s fool, has been among Henry’s closest companions since he had arrived in court several years before. Somers was the one person who could, by the very nature of his position, go anywhere, talk to anyone, walk in and out of the King’s apartments, and generally do as he pleased as long as he was always available when the King called for him.

Somers is perfectly placed to find himself in the role of amateur detective when that metaphorically cutthroat jockeying results in the actual cut throat of one of the Spanish ambassador’s attendants.

That the bisexual Somers had spent the previous night with the dead man only adds to his distress. Someone he genuinely cared for is dead, and a thorough investigation could discover Will’s own clandestine behavior. He wants justice – and he needs to protect himself.

In the midst of the King’s Great Matter, with the Spanish on one side and his King on the other, the crime could also have political implications. Somers will have to tread carefully, but still poke his, or his dog’s, nose into every nook and cranny to find the killer – even while that killer is stalking him and those he holds dear.

Escape Rating A-: Hybrid genres like historical mystery have to achieve a balance between the two genres being blended. In the case of historical mystery that means that the historical setting has to feel authentic and the mystery has to be puzzling and fit the conventions for solving the crime that has taken place.

Courting Dragons is one of those historical mysteries where the reader is dropped right into the historical period from the first page, and where the history that wraps around it is integral to the plot – even though it can’t change any of the known historical facts. (For anyone who remembers the movie or the play, Anne of the Thousand Days, Courting Dragons read a LOT like returning to that setting and characters.)

So one of the reasons that I loved Courting Dragons was because I saw that movie in 1969 – I was twelve – and fell in love with the entire Tudor Period, warts and all. Going back was a delight. Howsomever, I read a lot in the period after I saw the movie and was familiar with the historical background.

Courting Dragons read like that balance between the history and the mystery was weighted towards the history, to the point where unless you are either familiar with the period, or enjoy learning a surprising amount of detail about a period with which you are not well acquainted, you need to be aware that the historical setting and tensions of Courting Dragons dominate the mystery. As I said, I loved it but your reading mileage may vary.

It does take a while for the mystery to get itself going, because there is just so much to learn and explore about life at court and Will’s circumstances within it. Which are fascinating but may not be what you read mysteries for.

There was one bit of the story that niggled more than a bit. It doesn’t feel inaccurate, but it was jarring to a 21st century reader all the same. And that involves Will’s relationship with the king. On the one hand, Will is utterly financially dependent on his work. He has a relatively high place for someone of low birth, but it can be snatched away at any time – and so can his life. He is the one person who can tell the king “No” and not get killed for it. He can needle the king about matters, such as his divorce, that the king doesn’t want to hear contradicted in any way. But he has to be careful of how much and how far he goes all the time. Very much on the other hand, in the book it is clear that Will is the king’s man through and through, and actually loves him in a way that seems a lot like the way that Sam Gamgee looked up to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Or the way that slavery proponents claimed that slaves felt about their slavemasters. It may be the way things actually were, but it still disconcerts.

So, if you like your historical mystery to dive deeply into the historical milieu in which it is set – or if you are just plain fascinated with the Tudors, Courting Dragons is a terrific mix of royal history and rotten murder. Will Somers, and his master Henry VIII, will be back in The Lioness Stumbles, hopefully this time next year!

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This book was a wonderful new way to explore the Tudor court. Westerson created a delightful story starring the ever present jester in King Henry VIII's court, Will Sommers. The author took what was known about Will and wove in period elements to create an utterly entertaining new twist. Readers get to explore an interpretation of what Will's life was like when he wasn't performing. Westerson gave Will a saucy and witty conversational tone as well as colorful and dangerous relationships. With all the wit and knowledge from entertaining at court Will methodically worked through the layers of deceit to uproot the plotters before it was to late. Westerson took note to describe the opulence at court and the "grave issue" of the king's marriage. The book was never weighed down as Will was always ready to lighten the mood by either action or wit. A remarkably entertaining story that adds new life to the redundant tales of the Tudor court.

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Courting Dragons
by Jeri Westerson
Pub Date: 03 Jan 2023

1529, London. Jester Will Somers enjoys an enviable position at the court of Henry VIII. As the king's entertainer, chief gossip-monger, spy and loyal adviser, he knows all of the king's secrets – and almost everyone else's within the walls of Greenwich Palace.

But when Will discovers the body of Spanish count Don Gonzalo while walking his trusted sidekick Nosewise in the courtyard gardens, and a blackmail note arrives soon after demanding information about the king, is one of his own closely guarded secrets about to be exposed? Trouble is afoot at the palace. Are the king's enemies plotting a move against him? Will must draw on all his wit and ingenuity to get to the bottom of the treacherous and deadly goings-on at the court before further tragedy strikes . . .

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Many thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for this opportunity to review “Courting Dragons.” All opinions and comments are my own.

Jeri Westerson’s new series features Will Somers, jester to King Henry VIII. He’s watched men (and women) come and go. It’s Anne Boleyn’s (or Nan Bullen, as here) turn now.

Will soon makes the acquaintance -- very close acquaintance -- of Don Gonzalo de Yscar, an aide to the Spanish Ambassador. All’s well and good until the man turns up with his throat slit. Could he be dead because of his involvement with the King’s “Great Matter” -- the intrigue surrounding all the work to secure a divorce from Queen Catherine. Will determines to seek justice for the man.

During the investigation, for that's certainly what it is, readers also receive a thorough history lesson. It will increase your enjoyment if you know a bit of it already, what part the Cromwells and Wolseys of the time played. The Lady Boleyn is prominent in the narrative. As Will himself says, “Which dragons must I slay to protect Henry? And which to protect myself?”

In between, we get a full discussion of Will’s love life -- with the dead Spaniard, the man’s servant, a kitchen boy, and especially the daughter of a nobleman of the English court. Yes, Will Somers doesn’t discriminate -- he loves everybody, as he tells his fiancé, the nobleman’s daughter; who he loves best of all and wishes to marry.

Will does a lot of work -- the author is a master of plotting -- and discovers why certain people had to die (for there’s another murder in the book), uncovering a tangled web of lies and confronting a murderer. And his king proclaims himself well satisfied.

An afterword explains about the life of the real Will Somers, who served the Tudor monarchs his entire life. Jeri Westerson has given readers a richly detailed historical mystery which should satisfy fans of the genre, and also mentions there are more to come.

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Will Somers is King Henry VIII's court jester. He is a Shropshire lad, raised on farm, but possessing a crooked back, he makes his way with foolishness and the ability to turn a phrase and poke fun at all the courtiers. Henry is trying to get a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, whom he married after her first husband, Henry's older brother, Arthur, died. She has been unable to give him sons. Will loves Catherine and her daughter, the Princess Mary, who are good Catholics and resist Henry's blandishments to divorce him. Henry is fighting with courtiers and Spaniards over "The Great Question," of divorce. Suddenly, the head of the Spanish legation is murdered and Will is incensed and decides to investigate. He is in great favor with Henry and is able to go places other courtiers might not be able to. Nan Bullen (Anne Boleyn) is also at court and Henry is in pursuit of her. Will capers among her ladies-in-waiting and is present when one of them is also murdered. Will sees a priest running from the scene with a crossbow, so he knows who the murderer is. Now, all he has to go is piece together the puzzle and present it to Henry. Very well-researched book with some interesting insights into the Tudor court. This is Henry at his greatest.

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Will Somers was Henry VIII’s court jester but he was no fool. While his jests sometimes brought a warning scowl or a physical slap from Henry, there is a friendship between the two that often allows Somers to call the king Henry or refer to him as uncle. Will is in love with Marion, the daughter of Lord Heyward, but his eye sometimes strays to the young men at court. After a night with Don Gonzalo, a Spanish diplomat, he later finds Gonzalo’s body in the garden. He considered him a friend and vows to find his killer. Gonzalo was involved with negotiations in the Great Matter, Henry’s attempt to divorce his wife Catherine so that he could marry Anne.

Somers travels freely through the halls and gardens of the palace. He is threatened by Wolsey in their encounters, but it is a time that Wolsey is losing favor with the king. Thomas Cromwell, however, sees Somers as an astute observer and a sometime ally, although there is little trust between them. Befriending Anne gives him access to her quarters and the ladies who are willing to share court gossip. When one of the ladies is murdered, Somers begins to wonder if the murders are tied to the Great Matter or if the motive lies elsewhere. Lady Jane was rumored to have ties to the king and Somers fears that there may be a threat to the king’s safety.

I have been a fan of Jeri Westerson’s historical fiction for some time. When she ended her previous series with the retirement of the Tracker of London, I looked forward to what would come next. Her new series is based on Henry VIII’s actual court jester. His moments with Somers provide a picture of Henry that you rarely see, a man who acquired the throne after the death of his brother. Her mystery is filled with misdirections and humor as Somers makes his way through the palace and it gives you a clear picture of life in Henry’s court. Westerson’s Afterward introduces you to what little is known about the real Somers and offers hints regarding his next adventure, something that I am definitely looking forward to. I would like to thank NetGalley and Severn House Publishing for providing this book for my review.

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Jeri Westerson has a knack for delivering historical mystery that are entertaining and informative. This new series, featuring Will Somers the joker as MC, is set during Henry VIII reign.
Will Somers, like Crisping Guest, is a character who's neither-her-nor-there. He's not a courtesan but he's got access to the king.
This situation helps him to access info, to listen to people, and to remain alive plus solving mysteries.
There's a lot of potential in this first in a series full of promises.
Recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine

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Beware the Royal Court!

A brilliant new series from the ever masterful spinner of tales, Jeri Westerson. Set in the court of Henry VIII, at the time when Henry is trying to put the Queen, Catherine of Aragon, aside and marry Lady Anne Boleyn or here known as the Lady Nan Bullen (read Westerson’s commentary at the end for further information about the spelling of Bullen). Will Somers is Henry’s court jester. (He was a real person historically in Henry’s court btw) A complicated man who can move through the court, unseen and yet not. A man who learns the secrets of the court, even as he has his own. Will is bisexual. He has one true love, Marion, a court seamstress / embroiderer, the illegitimate child of Lord Robert Heyward.
He has various alliances of the moment with men. One is the Spanish contingent, Don Gonzalo de Yascar. When Gonzalo is found murdered, Will investigates. There are so many plots brewing that Will feels stymied. Was this an assignation, were Cromwell or Wolsley involved?
There’s another murder! A rogue priest is abroad, a sharp visaged pedant, whom Will is suspicious of. After all the priest did search Gonzalo’s rooms.
The relationship between Will and Henry is fascinating, often tender, and yet Henry is the King. Perhaps that’s what allows the freedom between the King and his fool? But Will always needs to read the room very carefully.
Westerson has put a very human face to these turbulent times.
The scene of Will visiting the once with Queen Catherine and Princess Mary, are filled with love and sadness. After all, as Will says he had been part of their family, but now all is pulled asunder with Henry’s plans for Catherine. The Great Matter as the king’s pursuit of the divorce is being called.
Superb storytelling gives life to these people of history. I am looking forward to hearing more of Will Somers. The title, ‘Courting Dragons’ gives food for thought. Courting trouble perhaps! Not for the faint hearted! Grabbing a dragon by the tail? Beware!


A Severn House ARC via NetGalley.
Many thanks to the author and publisher.

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A genial court jester named Will Somers (a character based on the real William Sommers, the best known court jester of the Tudor era) is the main protagonist in this delightful new series set at the court of Henry VIII in the late 1520's.

Will is an endearing man. He loves to spy, to gossip and to make fun of the court environment while trying to keep his head above the fray while navigating the treacherous waters surrounding his master's throne at Greenwich Palace.
Will is also bisexual and he loves to flirt with danger. But when a winsome Spanish diplomat with whom he had a one night stand is found murdered the following day in the palace's gardens, our resourceful court jester will find himself duly entangled within the vast and dangerous spiderweb of intrigues surrounding Henry's marital headaches....

A superb fictional tapestry of court life under one of England’s most charismatic monarchs, superbly plotted with lots of twists and turns, sparkling dialogues and blessed with a terrific cast of exquisitely drawn characters, Courting dragons is a fascinating piece of historical fiction and a highly entertaining whodunit. I simply can't wait for the next installment!

A Highly recommended read that deserves to be enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever!

Many thanks to Severn House and Netgalley for this fabulous ARC!

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Will Sommers is King Henry’s fool but he is no fool in reality. Will generally navigates swirling intrigues of court by using his wits and his special relationship with the king to avoid getting swept up in deadly dramas. But, Will is torn by his love for his king and his loyalty to Queen Catherine whom Henry wants to divorce. Will must also hide his romantic relationships with men due to the views of the time. But when a member of the Spanish ambassador’s entourage sweeps Will into a whirlwind romance and then turns up murdered, Will vows to find the murderer of his friend, even at risk to his own life. Well plotted, well researched and touching. A great read and I can’t wait for more in the series.

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Generally speaking, this book was standard Jeri Westerson fare - extremely readable and not too taxing, with inoffensive, likeable characters. The story wasn't exactly a rollercoaster ride and the plot evolved at a stead, even pace, however, while it bobbed along quite nicely, there were a few discordant notes, Firstly, the Americanisms that peppered the text gave away the author's transatlantic origins, and such terms as 'leash' instead of lead and 'will you watch Nosewise for me' instead of 'will you look after Nosewise for me' were somewhat jarring, when one considers the Tudor setting. Also, the behaviour, views and mores of the protagonists was distinctly 21st century at times. While we are given the distinct impression that it very much mattered who married whom, we are also led to believe in the ready acceptance of male/male relations by certain characters. No doubt this did occur in Tudor times as in any other, but such ready acceptance by a gently born young Tudor lady, however illegitimate, is highly unlikely. This is indeed a work of fiction, but some accuracy as regards the author's chosen period setting would be nice. Other than these relatively minor points, the book was enjoyable and I look forward to reading further exploits of Will Sommers, should there be any, not to mention the delightful Nosewise.

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