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Never Bore, Do Those Ravens

The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London - Christopher Skaife

I want to write the perfect review for this charming book, but I really don’t know what to tell you.


It’s just a pleasant, relaxing diversion to dive into this - and get: some History, but not a lot; a fair bit of science, but not buckets worth. And then the rest is about what the various Tower Ravens have been up to, over the years, and how the Ravenmaster fits in. Or tries to. Specific to our esteemed author - Ravenmaster Skaife - we get glimpses of his military background scattered throughout the book, and these reminiscences - which of course never take over or rob the ravens of the spotlight - help the reader understand the human personality at play here, and his priorities: practice, routine, forethought and strategy, a place for everything and everything packed in its proper place. The very structure of the book is orderly and pristine, chapters are short and direct, and there are no odd experiments. You do start to wonder what this guy is like, if and when he loosens up and does something spontaneous. Oh wait, he climbs Towers right to the top on handy scaffolding and tries to persuade irritated birds to go home to sleep. Results, it seems, will push you back to your true center: Think it Through and Make A Plan.


So, there is a lot of “where has that Raven got to, today? Must. Find!”. Larger scale, we learn the fates of various birds who have resided at the Tower over the years - and, linked to that, what constitutes a bad day, a normal day (ahhhhh, a normal day…), and a GREAT day,  while always caring for and at times providing unwitting entertainment for birds that: may be holding a grudge; may like to see you as the butt of a joke; may be out of sorts and in a mood that needs figuring out. (Speaking of jokes, the author has a great sense of humor himself, if not so cruel as a raven's can be.)


Nitpicks: I wish we had learned more about the other current Ravens besides Munin and Merlina ("current" at time of writing). I wish the photo section had put names to any Raven appearing there. And then…well, not so much a nitpick, as an observation: okay, it’s clear that with one of his duties being escorting tourists around the Tower and keeping them entertained with tales and cool facts, he has noticed that there are tourists, and there are tourists. I’ll say it, even if he won’t:  “some people are jerks. there will be badly-behaved idiots traipsing through”. But, I get it: anecdotes relating to this whole aspect of his job would be compelling stuff, but it’s not exactly the image he can exude and promote - “I deal with a fair amount of jerks on my job, read my book to find out the details; but I’ll be smiling when you show up for the tour potentially with plans to harass or accidentally poison the Ravens, nice to see you, good turnout….”. No, best to focus on the Ravens, not the humans. Though, I think there was one paragraph where you get the “I’ve seen it all” message, when it comes to human - not avian - behaviour, at the Tower.


I learned a few things - but overall the book is simply a wonderful way to escape to the Tower and see it from the point of view of the Ravens, and the Ravenmaster.