Ravenmaster

At any time there are at least six ravens who live at the Tower of London. The legend goes that if the ravens ever leave, “the Tower will crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom.” Christopher Skaife, The Ravenmaster, is there to make sure that doesn’t happen. His official title is Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress The Tower of London, and he is your delightful narrator in this wonderful book.

After serving 24 years in the British Army, Skaife became a Yeoman Warder, part of the royal bodyguard charged with guarding the Tower. He lives at the Tower with his wife and daughter, and in addition to being the Ravenmaster, conducts tours of the Tower. He is gregarious and engaging, with many stories to tell, but make no mistake, the ravens are the stars of this book.

The reader gets to meet each raven through a detailed description provided by Skaife. Each bird has unique personality traits, and since the ravens are free to roam the premises, it behooves the Ravenmaster to know these when one of the ravens decides to go rogue.

Stories of trying to locate rogue birds provide some of the most memorable moments from this book. In addition, Skaife also provides the reader with fascinating information about ravens. In describing their eating habits, he says, “ravens are opportunists and will happily steal anything from you if and when the need arises.” The food of tourists is often the victim of this opportunism, and the description of how they eat rats and mice is not for the squeamish.

Skaife marvels at the intelligence these birds display and provides ample examples, including the description of their use of deception in what he calls a pigeon strike. The lore of ravens and their history in the British Isles is discussed throughout the book, which gives the reader a greater appreciation of their relationship to humans. Skaife also outlines his daily routine of caring for the ravens, including a list of six raven dos and don’ts passed on to him from his predecessors, which serves to show his dedication as well as his affection for these birds.

There is also plenty to learn about the Tower and royal history in case the ravens aren’t enough. Reading this book feels like you have hired your own personal guide who is showing you what the other tour guides won’t.