* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *
Legend has it that if the ravens at the Tower of London should ever leave, the Tower will crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom. It is the responsibility of the Ravenmaster and his team to ensure this never happens. Christopher Skaife is a Yeoman Warder and the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London and this is his memoir.
In The Ravenmaster - My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, Christopher takes the reader through his daily routine and introduces us to each of the ravens. He describes the birds, their personalities, pecking order, quirks and many anecdotes demonstrating proof of their incredible intelligence. He explains the characteristics of ravens, what makes them different to crows and how he manages to keep them happy and healthy at the Tower.
In addition to his duties as Ravenmaster, he also gives us an idea of what it's like to give tours of the Tower in his role as Yeoman Warder: learning the tour script, fielding questions and being photographed hundreds of times a day.
To qualify as a Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London, applicants need to have served in the military for a minimum of 22 years with an unblemished record. Christopher lives with his wife in the Tower and is one of many ceremonial guardians of the Tower. He is a corvid enthusiast having previously known nothing about birds, and I found his writing style easy going and informative without being dry.
Incorporating the history of this great fortress (which is fascinating to me), the author also includes the history of ravens in literature and art and the folklore and myths surrounding them. In talking about the association between ravens and death, Christopher writes:
"Their reputation for feasting on flesh was soon matched by a reputation for feasting on souls: people used to say that ravens would sit on the roof of a house of the dead and the dying and wait for the soul to come up the chimney so they could gobble it down." Pg 221
I met the Ravenmaster when I visited the Tower of London in October 2012, and wanted to ask him a million questions at the time. Fortunately he was able to answer all of my questions in this memoir which was a pleasure to read. I especially enjoyed reading about his involvement in the poppy exhibition Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red exhibition in 2014.
My rating = *****