The Sterkarm Handshake

The Sterkarm Handshake

by Susan Price

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The Sterkarms have plundered the border between Scotland and England for generations. Suddenly intruders, calling themselves Elves, want the Sterkarms to stop their violent ways.

The Elves, time travelers from the 21st century, have found a way back to the 16th century and plan to do their own plundering of the land's rich natural resources. Their only


The Sterkarms have plundered the border between Scotland and England for generations. Suddenly intruders, calling themselves Elves, want the Sterkarms to stop their violent ways.

The Elves, time travelers from the 21st century, have found a way back to the 16th century and plan to do their own plundering of the land's rich natural resources. Their only mistake is foolishly underestimating the Sterkarms themselves.

For Andrea Mitchell, an anthropologist working among the Sterkarms, none of this matters. In love with Per — a young Sterkarm warrior — and feted as a beautiful Elf-May, she's never known such happiness in her own time.

But when Per receives a deadly injury, Andrea's decision to take him into the 21st century to save him has explosive results. Per, seeing how powerful and destructive the Elves truly are, swears to keep them from his land forever. And in the bloody battle that ensues, Andrea must finally choose whose side she is on.

The Sterkarm Handshake is a stirring tale of a clash of two cultures, beautifully told by master storyteller Susan Price.

Books for the Teen Age 2001 (NYPL)

Editorial Reviews

The Times of London
Fusing the best sci-fi and history!
Voice of Youth Advocates
A ripping good tale [Winner of Britain's 1999 Guardian First Book Award]. . . Price's skill with language makes it all so believable.
Denver Post
A staggeringly brilliant story. . . an inspired and enthralling depiction of 16th century life. Price won the prestigious Guardian award for this book.
Publishers Weekly
"This gripping time-travel adventure cleverly imagines a startling collision of 21st-century technology and 16th-century mores," said PW in a starred review. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Price's (The Ghost Drum) gripping time-travel adventure, a 1999 Carnegie Medal finalist, cleverly imagines a startling collision of 21st-century technology and 16th-century mores. A British corporation called FUP has built a time machine, planning to mine pre-industrialized land for gold and oil and eventually turn it into a resort. But the Sterkarms, one of the warring families inhabiting the Scottish and English border "16th side," won't cooperate; they keep robbing FUP survey teams. Tensions escalate when FUP's power-hungry boss, Windsor, kidnaps Per, the only son of a Sterkarm lord. Making matters even more complicated, Per and Andrea, an FUP employee sent back in time to live with the Sterkarms, have fallen in love. Both parties question her loyalty, and she faces the impossible task of choosing with whom to side. While Price builds the drama well, her story lags at certain points; adults should know there's some sexual banter. These caveats aside, Price does a masterly job of blending fact and fiction, straddling two time periods and rotating through several characters' points of view. Readers will be engrossed, unable to rest until they know how the author resolves the seemingly insoluble conflicts. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
When 21st-century resources are fast becoming extinct, where might one turn to? How about the 16th century? That's the idea of modern-day investors who support the development of a Time Tube. They induce anthropologist Andrea Mitchell to go back to earlier times at the Scottish border in order to study their ways and to pave the way for trade. In the process, she falls in love with the clansman heir—and also fears his people's "savagery." However, it takes the 21st century to truly condone thoughtless violence and destruction. Will modern man pollute the Scots and their land? And what happens when her lover finds himself in her era? The clash of values can be heard across the centuries. Winner of a Guardian Fiction Prize, this fantasy/SF story paints a riveting picture of both times, complete with nuanced characters and good plot twists. The use of believable Scottish dialect helps make the story and the passion even more credible. A surprisingly restrained treatment of both periods. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, HarperCollins, Eos, 566p., Farmer
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-This dazzling story combines time travel, romance, and action, along with thought-provoking ideas and memorable characters. In the near future, a British company called FUP has developed a time tube that leads back to the 16th century when the land was ruled by the primitive Sterkarm clan. FUP, headed by the villainous Mr. Windsor, plans to grab natural resources and artifacts from the past world, then eventually turn it into a profitable tourist spot. Andrea, an FUP employee, goes through the tube and lives among the clan, researching their ways. She gets caught up in their world and begins to question her "21st side" mores. Things get complicated when the Sterkarm leader's wounded son is brought through the tube for modern medical help. When he learns that he is being held hostage, he escapes back to his own time, temporarily disabling the tube, and the conflict between the two worlds escalates into a small war. The narrative shifts effortlessly among characters' viewpoints, as well as from one time period to the other. Sterkarm language and folklore are sprinkled throughout. Though all of the main characters are well developed, Andrea's conflicts are particularly involving. She appreciates many things about 16th side, and even falls in love with a Sterkarm warrior, but is also horrified at the ruthless violence that is such a part of that world. Her efforts to engineer a peaceful solution lead to some terrifically tough choices, few of which fully succeed. Though there are plenty of intense moments and serious implications, the brisk pace and immediacy of the narrative make this an equally excellent choice for adventure lovers.-Steven Engelfried, Deschutes County Library, Bend, OR Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This American edition of a prize-winning English novel combines convincing historical detail, smart, engaging storytelling, and a simple science-fiction premise to produce an exciting, highly readable, and morally complex tale. Andrea, an English anthropologist of the near future, has been hired by FUP, a powerful international corporation, to study and live among the residents of the lawless 16th-century borderlands between England and Scotland. Having established a time-tube between the periods, FUP intends to exploit the natural resources of the past, and Bryce, the executive in charge, expects Andrea to provide him information to help manipulate the locally powerful Sterkarm family. Far heftier than is fashionable in the 21st-century, Andrea is the height of beauty in the 16th, and becomes the lover and intended bride of Per, son of Toorkild, the leader of the Sterkarms. While charmed by the warmth, wit, and loyalty of the Sterkarms, Andrea is appalled by the brutality and squalor of a life without medicine, plagued by disease and constant deadly battles. When Bryce, a cartoonishly evil bad guy among otherwise multifaceted portraits (he even taunts Andrea about her weight), who interprets the Sterkarms lack of modern polish as stupidity, decides to ignore Andrea's council and use force and deception to control them, Andrea finds herself torn between her feelings for her adopted people and her loyalties to her own time. Along with romance, adventure, and the wonderfully rendered picture of life in the 16th century—you can smell and hear it as well as see it—adults and more sophisticated teens will appreciate the ambiguities of cultural values inconflict. (Fiction.12+)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Older Fiction Series

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

16th Side: A Robbery

From out of the surrounding hills came a ringing silence that was only deepened by the plodding of the pack ponies' hooves on the turf and the flirting of their tails against their sides. Above, the sky was a clear pale blue, but the breeze was strong.

There were four members of the Geological Survey Team: Malc, Tim, Dave and Caro. They'd left the 21st that morning at eight, coming through the Tube to the 16th, where the plan was to spend four days. None of them had ever been so far from home before, and they often looked back at the Tube. It was their only way back.

It was when they lost sight of the Tube among the folds of the hills that trouble arrived.

Three horses, with riders, picked their way down the hillside toward them. The horses were all black and thickset and shaggy, with manes and tails hanging almost to the ground. The riders' helmets had been blackened with soot and grease, to keep them from rust, or covered with sheepskin so they looked like hats. Their other clothes were all buffs and browns, blending into the buffs, browns and greens all around them. Their long leather riding boots rose over the knee. On they came with a clumping of hooves and a jangling of harness, carrying eight-foot-long lances with ease.

“It's all right,” Malc said. “Don't worry. They're just coming to check us out.”

“There's others,” Caro said. There were men on foot, about eight of them, running behind the riders.

The riders reached them first, and circled them, making the geologists crowd closer together, while still clinging to the halters of the pack ponies. The riders' lancesremained in the upright, carrying position, but this wasn't reassuring.

Up came the men on foot, and the riders reined in to let them through. The footmen were all bearded and longhaired, and had long knives and clubs in their hands. A couple had pikes. Without any preamble, they laid hands on the ponies' halters and tugged them out of the geologists' hands.

“Don't argue,” Malc said. “Dave, let it go. Let them have whatever they want.”

Two of the riders dismounted, handing their reins to the third—a boy of about fourteen—who remained on his horse. They had a look of each other, the riders, like brothers. The first to dismount, his lance still in his hand, was probably the eldest. He was bearded, but no older than about twenty. He went straight up to Malc and began to pull the backpack from his shoulders.

“I thought they'd agreed not to rob us anymore,” Caro said, taking off her own backpack as the other dismounted rider came toward her.“Just don't annoy them,” Malc said.

As Dave and Tim shrugged out of their backpacks, one of the bearded footmen called out something'in a speech that sounded like coughing and snarling. His companions all laughed.

The geologists looked anxiously at each other. They didn't understand the joke, and were afraid of how far it might be taken.

The second dismounted rider suddenly caught Tim's hand and pulled his arm out straight. For a moment Tim looked into an almost beardless and strikingly pretty face—and then the young man was dragging at his wristwatch, pulling the expandable bracelet off over his hand. He stared Tim in the face for a moment, and then snatched off the geologist's spectacles before moving on to Dave and grabbing at his hands too. Dave took his wristwatch off and gave it to him.Malc and Caro, catching on, quickly took off their wristwatches and handed them over.

The first rider—the bearded one handling an eight-foot lance as if it were a pencil—seemed not to like the pretty one having all the watches, and a coughing, snarling argument started between them. While it went on, Malc caught sight of Caro's face, set in a grimace of fright. The other two looked much the same, and he supposed that his own face also reflected his painful uncertainty and fear.

The argument ended with the pretty thief handing two of the wristwatches to the one with the lance—who immediately turned to Malc, grabbed his waterproof and pulled at it, snarling something.Malc pulled his waterproof off over his head. The others hurried to do the same.

The pretty rider gestured at their other clothes. Take them all off, he seemed to mean. Certainly, when they hesitated, there were more peremptory gestures and snarled words.

Caro saw the way the footmen gathered closer as she pulled off her sweater, and she stopped, only to be shoved, and staggered on her feet, by the horseman with the lance. When she still hesitated, he grabbed at her shirt, pulling the buttons undone and exposing her bra.

“Caro, do as they want,” Tim said. “It'll be all right. We're here.”Malc, Tim and Dave all edged closer to her, trying to shield her, but she knew perfectly well that there was nothing they could do to protect her, outnumbered and unarmed as they were. She took off her shirt, shaking with fear. There was nothing remotely exhilarating about the feeling. She felt sick and desperate, and wished she'd never left the humdrum safety of the 21st side.

They took off all their upper clothing, but still weren't undressing quickly enough for the liking of their attackers, who dragged at their arms, and pushed them, to hurry them up. One of the footmen, by pointing, made it clear that he wanted their boots—and then, when they were seen to be wearing thick socks, the socks were pulled off their feet and their trousers tugged at.

They stripped down to their underpants, which caused hilarity, and the pointing and jeering was as threatening as the shoves.

Despite being so funny, their underpants were taken too, leaving the survey team standing naked in the breeze. Their skin roughened with goose pimples. The survey team were left, shaking but still alive, to walk over rough country, naked and barefoot, all the way back to the Tube and the 21st.

What People are saying about this

Philip Pullman
Enthralling...A thunderous, driving, unstoppable yarn.

Meet the Author

Susan Price is the author of the Sterkarm series. Born in Dudley, West Midlands, in England, she went on to write the Guardian Fiction Prize–winning The Sterkarm Handshake (1998) after visiting reiver country on the borders of Scotland. To help her imagine the Sterkarm’s world, she drew on lifelong interests in history, folklore, and old ballads, as well as her hobbies of shooting with a longbow and traveling to the Scottish hills with her partner. Price continued the series with A Sterkarm Kiss (2004) and A Sterkarm Tryst (2017). Her other works include the novel The Ghost Drum, which won the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Price lives in the Black Country, in West Midlands, England.

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