Book: The Sterkarm Handshake

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The Sterkarm Handshake

Author: Susan Price
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

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.


“Beware of shaking hands with a Sterkarm!” goes the folk saying. Why the warning? The members of this wild 16th-century Scottish clan are left-handed, and while they smile and offer the right hand, the left wields a dagger.

When a 21st-century mega-corporation opens a Time Tube to the 16th century, the stiff-backed CEO finds his plans for exploiting the mineral and tourism possibilities of the ancient English-Scottish border frustrated by the Sterkarms—raiding parties of men he regards as primitive animals.

On the other side of the Time Tube, anthropologist Andrea Mitchell has been sent to live with the Sterkarms to be the corporation’s informant and translator. There she is surprised to find herself admired for her generous curves and accepted warmly by the volatile and affectionate—but intermittently murderous—clansmen. When her lover, Per, is grievously wounded on a raid, she persuades Old Toorkild, the chief, to allow his handsome and adored son to be transported to the 21st century for healing. But when Per awakes in a world four centuries ahead of his own, his terror and suspicions of treachery bring down a wild collision between heartless technology and a ferocious people skilled in passionate defense of their life and lands.

Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize in England, Susan Price’s The Sterkarm Handshake—a richly textured love story, a vivid and sometimes humorous portrayal of confrontation between cultures, and a thumping good page-turner—should find enthusiastic fans among teen-fantasy and time-travel buffs. (Ages 12 and older) —Patty Campbell

The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price is an extraordinarily detailed historical-modern science fiction novel in which members of a team of researchers from the 21st century travel through a time tube into the lives of the Sterkarm clan in 16th-century England. At first the narrative concerns itself with the creation of a realistic and believable portrayal of the living conditions and the relationships of a tough, violent group of people whose feelings for each other are not that dissimilar from those of human beings living 500 years later. As the novel progresses, the relations between the 21st-century individuals and the Sterkarms simultaneously deteriorate and deepen. Incidents pile one upon the other, the sense of conflict increases and the action becomes both increasingly violent and increasingly complicated. External action is balanced by the development of internal feelings and one of the modern team, a young girl named Andrea, falls deeply in love with a young Sterkarmer. This is a novel for sci-fi bookworms with a love of history, a touch of romance and masses of action.—Tamsin Palmer (Ages 10 and over)

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