Courting Dragons (2023) by Jeri Westerson

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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