The Sterkarm Handshake

Style: Average

Attitude: Take Care

Cover of The Sterkarm Handshake

Author: Susan Price

Publisher: Scholastic

Published in: 1998

Age Range: Young Teens

Period: Various

Setting: Carlisle

Genres:  AdventureTime-Travel


  • Per Sterkarm is the son of a clan leader in 16th-century Scotland
  • Andrea Mitchell is a 21st-century researcher, living in the 16th-century as a liaison between a 21st-C technology company and the Sterkarm clan who are her hosts.
  • James Windsor is the commercial manager of the company whose technology allows travel to the 16th century.
  • Joe Sterkarm is a 21st century down-and-out who finds a better home in the 16th century.


The Time Tube allows people from the 21st century to travel to the 16th to negotiate deals which will bring now unknown produce from an unpolluted world. However, the people running the show in the 21st seriously underestimate the peoples of the 16th. Only Andrea, living and working among them, understands how they think, and she is influenced by her love for Per.


Literary: This book just stops short of being a military thriller, with slightly gory — almost voyeuristic — descriptions of unsuspecting men about to be killed in more-or-less pleasant ways. What it does do well, is to provide a searching look at the modern attitude to the people who previously lived where we now do. The mediaeval Scots are simple but neither naive nor unintelligent; they are emotional and sentimental but not a soft touch; they stick fast to what they see as the demands of their society when it comes to hospitality but are unafraid of turning that hospitality into an ambush; they are brutal and primitive but not without their own culture.

Ancient and modern: When confronted with the modern world, the peoples of the 16th see it as a magical elf-land of wonders. When the peoples of the 21st travel back to the 16th, they see it as fresh and clean. Yet this is no romantic plaint for some former way of life. Through Andrea's eyes, who lives among the primitive tribesmen of the 16th century, we see how little their morality matches ours: theft is only when things are taken from you; when you take from others, that is only right. The Sterkarm Handshake refers to the fact that the Sterkarms where generally left-handed, so could shake with their right, inducing trust, but still cut you down with a weapon.

General: There is a general undercurrent of brutality in the dealings of the 16th-C Scots, including mention of how often they would womanise and how readily they would kill.

As they'd come closer to the tower, and the wall rose above him, Joe had tipped back his head further and further. He'd never seen a castle so whole and new. The wall, fifteen feet high and built of smooth blocks of reddish-grey stone, encircling the crag, cast a shadow down the hillside. They'd climbed the steep path to the narrow, square gatehouse, with its thick, wooden, iron-studded door, backed by a heavy iron yett. The short passageway was dark, chill and damp, with puddles and mud lying among its cobbles. Joe felt the weight of the stone hanging above them as they passed under it. This wasn't a tourist attraction to visit on a sunny afternoon, with your girlfriend and a six-pack. That wall, that door and iron yett had been put in place because there were people who needed to be kept out.

Tuesday 9th December 2003