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.