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.
My birthday prize review is finally here!!!! To remind you, I picked The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price, for the reason that I had yet to find a time travel book I liked, and because the nominator obviously loved the book and had done so for a long time. And I am very glad I selected this book, because finally I have read a time travel novel I could actually enjoy.
The Sterkarm Handshake is set in both the 16th and 21st centuries, which have been connected via The Pipe, a physicist's creation that the author doesn't bog the reader down with too much information about. Whilst I know many authors like showing off their intelligence and imagination by coming up with the pseudo-science behind inventions, it was refreshing to not have to worry for once about whether I'd even understood the individual words!
The 21st Century protagonists aim to create amicable relations with the 16th Century Sterkarms (a territorial, clannish race of people that live in the no man's land between England and Scotland), often via bribery with aspirin and whiskey, in order to plunder the 16th Century's natural resources for 21st Century use. Strangely, at no point do the 21st Century scientists seem to consider whether taking oil, coal etc from the 16th Century could actually have an effect on the current day...
The central characters are a very mixed bunch from teenage pretty boys to last chance saloon down and outs, and in fact I ended up much more on the side of the 16th Century (which I'm not sure I was supposed to!). There is also a multi-time love story, which, unfortunately, I really disliked. The lady concerned is a whiny, indecisive, cry-baby, which is not a description many central characters should be proud of...
To conclude, there is much to like about The Sterkarm Handshake - it's an engaging, easy-to-read book with some fascinating commentary on 16th and 21st Century politics and lifestyles - however, for me there were also some serious flaws. They didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book as a whole, but they do prevent it being rated as a favourite, 7 out of 10.