Courting Dragons by Jeri Westerson

If you know anything about British royal history, you probably know of King Henry VIII and his many wives. Needless to say, the king had some commitment issues. Interestingly, despite the king's revolving door of consorts, he was steadfast in his devotion to one person for the remainder of his life. Enter Will Sommers, his jester. Not much is known with any certainty about Will Sommers other than he was the Monarch's jester from the reign of King Henry VIII through the reigns of Henry's children: King Edward VI, Queen Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I. To have such longevity in a medieval royal court is a triumph for anyone, let alone a jester. Being afforded this place of prominence across generations of the Tudor dynasty put Sommers in a uniquely front-row seat for some of the most dramatic events in British history. This is what makes the premise of Jeri Westerson's Courting Dragons so intriguing. Weaving a murder mystery into the lore of this particular jester opens up endless possibilities.

Jeri Westerson's Will Sommers is a fool, but he's no dummy. Sommers is quite the intellect, often outmaneuvering his supposed "betters" and overpowering them with his quick wit and expertly landed taunts. As a medieval jester, he is allowed a certain level of freedom within the court of King Henry VIII. Neither nobleman nor servant, the otherwise rigid court rules are often bent regarding what the jester does or says. A jester to the king easily moves about the palace to be in the presence of whomever he pleases, regardless of their class. Perhaps more importantly, a jester can say what others think without fear of losing one's head. After all, who would take seriously the insults of a fool? Even so, Sommers uses his position and keen intellect to both entertain and ridicule / bring to light the various schemes of the court. Chief of which at this moment is the "Great Matter" of King Henry's ongoing campaign to end his marriage to Queen Catherine of Spain. 

As that well-known drama unfolds, Sommers finds himself in a precarious situation of his own--stumbling upon the slit throat of his Spanish male lover. Queerness in the medieval era was similarly dangerous as in modern times, so Sommer's proclivity for bedding other men was something that must remain a secret. Quickly realizing his unique access as a jester puts him in an unusual position to investigate the murder, Sommers feels honor-bound to discover the culprit and enlists his one true love, Marion, to help. As the plot unfolds and secrets emerge, the investigation raises more questions than answers. Was the Spaniard killed due to the homosexual nature of his and Sommer's relations? Or does it have to do with the rising tensions between the Spanish and English and the "great matter" at court? With the consequences of succession, blasphemy, and power at hand, Sommers must walk a perilous line to uncover the truth.

As I mentioned earlier, not much is truly known about Will Sommers outside of his long tenure as court jester. But that is what makes Courting Dragons so fun. Jeri Westerson gets to play with an archetype rooted in arguably the most theatrical and sensationalized period in Western history. I found Will Sommers's perspective fascinating, and as a gay man, I appreciated the inclusion of queer elements without it being the main focus of the story, especially within the context of Renaissance England. I admit that the final revelation of the plot left me feeling somewhat anticlimactic, but it does not detract from the fun I had reading this book. I found this story to be a satisfying intertwining of a traditional murder mystery set in the ever-popular historical context of the court of King Henry VIII. If that sounds like your cup of tea, I highly recommend this story. 

Review by Johnathan H. 

This entry was posted on Friday, April 12, 2024 and is filed under ,,,,,,,. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

4 Responses to “Courting Dragons by Jeri Westerson”

  1. I know a lot about Henry VIII's many wives, but nothing about his jester. What a fun character to base a story around! Another book for my TBR list. :D

  2. Though the plot seems to have fizzled out a bit there in the end, I agree that a book from the court jester's POV sounds like an interesting one.

  3. Seems it would be a hard time to be a jester considering Henry. pretty sure my head would roll

  4. While I've heard some about his many wives, the jester is not someone I have heard about. What a unique premise for a story.


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