Mr B's review
Mr B’s Christmas Catalogue Review 2018
Christopher Skaife has some unusual colleagues, feathered and with distinct personalities. He’s also a superb storyteller. The result of this combination is a fascinating and hugely readable memoir which allows us to go backstage at the mystery-ridden Tower of London, to experience some unique moments, from the morning Skaife was put in a raven cage, to a bird’s sex change. Skaife’s obvious passion will make it feel like you’re sitting down for an unforgettable chat, to be charmed by these astounding birds and their world.
‘Packed with insight and anecdote, his story brings the Tower ravens to vivid life, each bird with a personality of its own. I’ve been fortunate enough to tour the Tower and meet the ravens a few times in years past; after reading this book, I cannot wait to go back’ George R. R. Martin
For centuries, the Tower of London has been home to a group of famous avian residents: the ravens. Each year they are seen by millions of visitors, and they have become as integral a part of the Tower as its ancient stones themselves. But their role is even more important than that – legend has it that if the ravens should ever leave, the Tower will crumble into dust, and great harm will befall the kingdom.
One man is personally responsible for ensuring that such a disaster never comes to pass – the Ravenmaster. The current holder of the position is Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, and in this fascinating, entertaining and touching book he memorably describes the ravens’ formidable intelligence, their idiosyncrasies and their occasionally wicked sense of humour.
Over the years in which he has cared for the physical and mental well-being of these remarkable birds, Christopher Skaife has come to know them like no one else. They are not the easiest of charges – as he reveals, they are much given to mischief, and their escapades have often led him into unlikely, and sometimes even undignified, situations.
Now, in the first intimate behind-the-scenes account of life with the ravens of the Tower, the Ravenmaster himself shares the folklore, history and superstitions surrounding both the birds and their home. The result is a compelling, inspiring and irreverent story that will delight and surprise anyone with an interest in British history or animal behaviour.
`A born storyteller with a gift for banter honed by years in the British army, Skaife has written a book that is far from a dry monograph about the species … [it is] a beguiling, fascinating, and highly amusing account of the strangely magical birds. He is making us love them in a way that makes them more than mere symbols’ Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk, Atlantic
`A strange, wise and fascinating book that takes you deep into the interwoven myth and history of the raven. At a time when we’re thinking more than ever about tradition and identity, this is a book that feels both urgent and timeless, with the Ravenmaster himself an eccentric, genial and quintessentially British narrator’ Alex Preston, author of When Kingfishers Catch Fire
`Balancing fascinating tidbits (a raven’s need for order and routine) with macabre details (blood-soaked dog biscuits and ghostly sightings), [Skaife] titillates as he educates, rehabilitating the gloomy reputation of the raven. Skaife’s conversational style and disarming candor make this a rollicking tale fit for nearly any armchair adventurer’ Publisher’s Weekly
`This is an utterly fascinating book about one of those subjects you never thought you’d be interested in until, well, you were . . . Skaife is a very good storyteller . . . A splendid and constantly surprising book’ Booklist
`For those seeking the secrets of the Tower of London without actually being imprisoned there, this is just the thing’ Kirkus
`A delightful read from a masterful-and very funny-storyteller’ Jennifer Ackerman, author of the New York Times bestselling The Genius of Birds
`Skaife is both a raven master and a master storyteller. Compulsively readable-I devoured the book in a single sitting!’ Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art