Monday, March 29, 2010

The Ravenmaster's Secret

Miss Lemon chanced upon a lively historical adventure whilst rummaging through a library sale on a recent Saturday afternoon. Indeed, once she began reading The Ravenmaster's Secret (2003), by Elvira Woodruff, she found herself instantly transported to the Tower of London, circa 1735.

If ever she felt like she were a prisoner, however, it was only because she could not summon the strength to pull herself away from this enchanting narrative. Not, at least, until she had turned the last page.

It seems the post of Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster has been held at the Tower of London at least since King Charles II issued a royal decree commanding that at least six ravens be kept on Tower grounds. Should the ravens ever leave, the legend goes, "the tower will fall"... and so, perhaps, will  the kingdom.

Ravens themselves have naturally flocked to the Tower long before their royal institution. Proximity of the gallows and access to fresh meat seem to be the major draw for these macabre little creatures.

But Tuck, the raven that's attached himself to 11-year-old Forrest Harper, the hero of our story, is more pet than black portent. As for Forrest, he's small for his age, mostly friendless and, as son of the Tower's Ravenmaster, lives a dull life in what is essentially a prison.  Forrest gets ill at hangings and bullied by the London boys.What's more, he hates to do his chores.

The one friend Forrest does have is the Tower's rat catcher called, appropriately, Rat.  Not the sort of company Forrest's kind parents were hoping for him to keep. Rat, in turn, is terrorized by the ghoulish Tower chimney sweep, who threatens to kidnap Rat and send him climbing. A fate that would certainly spell death.  Not surprisingly, Rat and Forest long for escape -- that is, until a pretty Scottish prisoner comes to stay at the Tower. She teaches Rat and Forrest one of the most important phrases they might ever learn: Dree yier ain weird.

Face your destiny.

What Miss Lemon found so persuasive about this novel are all the small details that give it both texture and suspense. From the harsh smell of lye on washing day to the hole in Forrest's  pocket that might spell loss of freedom for them all, Miss Lemon means it when she says that while reading The Ravenmaster's Secret she scarcely noticed the modern world around her.


  1. Sounds like an excellent and atmospheric read. Also - I have always been rather fascinated by the ravens!

    Thanks for sharing


  2. I think they have winnowed it down to two ravens now. I am going out searching for this one. My proximity to the tower itself makes this all the more interesting.