I enjoy a really good historical murder mystery – after all, before a certain time there simply wasn’t a unified police force to hunt down murderers and bring them to justice. So it was often left to determined individuals to try to figure out whodunit – the meat and drink of so many murder mysteries. What really caught my attention about this offering is the setting – the court of Henry VIII and the intriguing main character.
BLURB: 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 . . .
REVIEW: Will is a fascinating protagonist, based on a real character who was a fool in Henry’s court and held this unique place there throughout the tumultuous Tudor dynasty. Westerson convincingly brings him to life in first-person viewpoint (I), so we get a ringside seat to his movement through the social shark tank that is life at court – and his interesting and often moving relationship with Henry, who he loves very much.
He is a big character with clearly loads of personal charm – and a hearty appetite for sexual encounters with both men and women. I’m not innately drawn to characters who demonstrate promiscuous behaviour, so it’s a tribute to Westerson’s writing that this didn’t get in the way of my bonding with Will. While the murder mystery was well plotted, with a plentiful cast of those with strong motivations for doing the foul deed – my overall focus wasn’t actually on the crime.
Westerson does a masterful job of depicting the court at a time of political turmoil. Henry has put aside Catherine of Aragon and is in the throes of trying to dissolve his marriage to her in order to make way for his new favourite – Anne Boleyn. Or Nan Bullen, as Will insultingly calls her. His loyalties, particularly at the start of the book, are firmly with Catherine and twelve-year-old Mary, who have been banished to a wing of the palace and placed under guard. In happier times, he would play for Catherine and was a firm favourite with both mother and daughter and his loyalties are torn emotionally, as he is pledged to Henry and talks to him in a way that no one else dares, calling him Harry to his face – and sometimes telling him baldly unpleasant truths that his courtiers and advisors don’t confront. This aspect of his relationship is based on historical fact, apparently, and I found it fascinating.
This happens to be a period of English history that I know a fair bit about. So the intricacies of the political and religious manoeuvring surrounding the Great Question, as Henry’s divorce came to be labelled, are familiar. But seeing them from the viewpoint of the court jester is both refreshing and thought provoking. I’m delighted to note that this is the first book in a series – and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next one. Will Somers is a new favourite. Highly recommended for fans of well written and researched historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Courting Dragons from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.