The novel that preceded this, The Sterkarm Handshake was an explosive, riveting and nail-biting story based around the concept of the cultural clash that would follow 21st century time travelers attempting to exploit the riches and opportunities that the past had to offer. The corporation FUP had completed a Time Tube that would transport employees into the past of a different dimension, in order to explore the possibilities that the unspoilt land offered. Only one thing stood in their way; the fierce and treacherous Sterkarms who were not prepared to stop their feuding and troublemaking just because a bunch of “Elves” asked them to.
The scientific ramifications of a time traveling device was not the focus of the novel; instead Susan Price focused solely on the interactions between past and present, and the impossible odds that her protagonist Andrea Mitchell had to face in attempting to negotiate between such uncontrollable powers. As the winner of the Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize and short listed for the Carnegie Medal, The Sterkarm Handshake comes very highly recommended.
But how does the sequel live up to the original? Sadly, like most sequels, not as well. A Sterkarm Kiss begins about a year after the Time Tube was closed down. Andrea now works as a barmaid and has lost all hope of ever seeing Per, her 16th century love, again. But then the extraordinary happens; her old boss, the greedy, immoral and cowardly James Windsor approaches her and offers her back her old job as liaison to the Sterkarms. The Tube is up and running again, but this time the old mistakes won’t be repeated. This time the Tube connects into a new dimension; where the “Elves” can begin afresh with their treatment of the Sterkarms.
This time, they can use their prior knowledge of the Sterkarm leaders to manipulate them and come across as peacemakers rather than an invading force. Brokering a marriage between the Sterkarms and their main foes, the Grannams, is their first step in securing peace and a stable environment in which to exploit the land. Andrea — despite some reservations — eventually accepts Windsor’s offer; the chance of seeing Per (albeit one who has never met her before) too great. But as always, there is treachery at work…
The idea that they travel into a different dimension, to meet a whole “new” set of the same characters in the 16th century felt at first like a bit of a cheat, as if Price had given herself a clean slate in order to explore an entirely new scenario rather than build on the established situation of the previous book. However, by the end of the novel it becomes clear that there is a reason behind the change in dimension which eventually pays off — it may just be a little frustrating at first if you’re eager to get updated on the Sterkarms of the first book.
The novel is geared toward teenagers, but whereas The Sterkarm Handshake could be read by younger readers as well as older ones, I’d be a little more hesitant to put this in the hands of a thirteen year old, as there are several scenes of violence, sex and language. These types of things were also present in Handshake, but not quite as graphically described, and there are also several deaths of established characters which come across as rather pointless (though perhaps this seeming pointlessness is precisely the point about death that Price is trying to make).
And then there’s the end; to call it a cliffhanger is an understatement, as it seems to end mid-chapter. With this being the case, and without any third installment in place, it’s difficult to understand the reasons behind writing a sequel, especially when The Sterkarm Handshake was wrapped up so neatly and poignantly.
Sterkarm — (1998—2003) Young adult. According to Susan Price’s website, a third volume is expected. Publisher: “Beware of shaking hands with a Sterkarm.” For generations, the Sterkarms plundered the Scottish border. They were known for shaking on a bargain with a dagger clutched firmly in one hand — and for not keeping their promises. Now people from the 21st century have found a way to travel to the Sterkarms’ time. The 16th century is rich in natural resources and historical detail, perfect for the modern investor or scholar. Anthropologist Andrea Mitchell finds more than research there, as she falls in love with a young Sterkarm warrior. But when he realizes how powerful and destructive the visitors truly are, he vows to keep them from his land forever. And in the bloody battle that ensues, Andrea must choose between her love and her world.