Chris Skaife may have the coolest job there is. It’s certainly one of the most unusual. Skaife is currently the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. His official title is Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and member of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary. As the Ravenmaster, he is charged with making sure England never falls.
The legend is that if the ravens ever leave the tower, it will crumble and “great harm will befall” England. As such, the very future of the kingdom is in his hands — and the ravens’ wings. At least, if you believe the legend. The Tower of London would rather err on the side of caution.
Yeoman warders live within the Tower and are charged with acting as historians, preservationists, tour guides and more. Skaife begins and ends each day with the storied ravens, who have their own personalities and preferences. But he never set out to be a yeoman warder, or an ornithologist.
The memoir is loosely structured around the sequence of events in a day, an easy way to introduce the reader to the wide range of responsibilities. He writes of being up in the early morning mist, heading to the meat markets before the public is up and about. He details the birds’ rituals, as well as his own. But he also tells his own story.
Skaife opens up about his troubled adolescence and readily shares some of his less-than-genius decisions. He is not oblivious to the fact that the ravens are both insightful and forgiving of his past. They don’t judge him for a drunken evening as a teen but they do evaluate him everyday as the one who watches over them. His book shows a genuine love for the birds and pride at being entrusted with their wellbeing.
His tone is matter-of-fact and cheeky, and instantly endearing (He reads the audiobook version and I imagine it’s very funny). His utter lack of pretense makes something truly extraordinary instantly approachable and relatable for any age of reader.
And if you’re truly interested in the day-to-day life of a yeoman warder (and you should be), you can follow Skaife as @ravenmaster1 on both Twitter and Instagram. He shares delightful photos and videos of his beloved corvids.
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 2, 2018)
read via NetGalley