The follow-up to the award-winning The Sterkarm Handshake:
A woman’s return to Scotland’s barbaric past ensnares her in a web of intrigue, danger, and love.
Andrea Mitchell once found acceptance and love among the Sterkarm clan in lawless 1500s Scotland when she gained access to Great Britain’s past via the FUP Corporation’s “Time Tube.” Since her return to the present, she has been unable to readjust to twenty-first century life. So when the company’s CEO, James Windsor, offers to send her back to the violent, colorful era—and her beloved Per Sterkarm—Andrea eagerly agrees.
The past she reenters, however, is not the one she remembers. To avoid potential catastrophic effects on the future, FUP has sent her to a different dimension and an alternate sixteenth century. Here, she is a stranger to her former friends, including her onetime lover Per, who is preparing to marry a daughter of the hated Grannams, the Sterkarms’ sworn enemies.
But the union is part of FUP’s insidious plan to plunder the past of its natural wealth. When the wedding goes brutally, tragically awry, Andrea finds herself caught in the middle, a pawn in a violent endgame devised by Windsor and his greedy cronies. And this time there may not be sanctuary for her among the proud, primitive folk she once admired—or even an escape forward to the future where she truly belongs.
Susan Price’s The Sterkarm Handshake was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize.
In A Sterkarm Kiss, the Carnegie Medal–winning author once again ingeniously blends historical and science fiction in a masterful time-travel adventure as thrilling and unforgettable as its acclaimed predecessor.
Andrea Mitchell has found contentment, if not joy, in the 21st century, her sojourn in the 16th century just memories of intense joy and terror (The Sterkarm Handshake, 2000). But when both her 16th century lover Per and 21st century corporate nemesis Windsor reappear, she seizes the opportunity to go back in time and try again. It seems though that this Per is not her Per: that Windsor has given up on her 16th century and decided to exploit a slightly different 16th century a few dimensions removed. Back Andrea goes through the Time Tube only to discover that this new Per is about to marry the daughter of the Sterkarms’ arch-enemies, in what turns out to be the tip of a very large and Windsor-engineered iceberg. Price serves up a darker offering than before, full of blood and anguish, as a brutal cycle of revenge is triggered, and Andrea realises that however closely these Sterkarms resembly her own beloved friends, these are entirely different people shaped by their own circumstances. The cliffhanger ending promises a sequel – but one that cannot come quickly enough.
Andrea Mitchell returns to the past, only it’s not exactly the past she visited in The Sterkarm Handshake. Her nasty ex-boss at FUP asks once again for her translating services, and Andrea agrees to go back through the Time Tube to the 16th Century – against her better judgement – hoping she will be reunited with her lover, Per. Andrea departs and learns that she’s been sent to a wholly different dimension, in which the people she lovingly remembers exist, but do not recognise her. Instead of buying the loyalty of the Sterkarms, the company she works for initiates a violent overthrow by pitting them against their enemy clan the Grannams. When an ill-fated wedding draws to its inevitable conclusion, the company’s plans are set in motion, and Andrea must unravel them. Though Price re-explains the setup from book one, familiarity with that novel gives this one greater emotional resonance. The plot moves quickly, and there’s as much or more violence than in the previous book. The idea of a past that’s actually a part of another dimension get a bit confusing (16-A, 16-B) but it effectively comes together in a cliff-hanger ending. The impersonal, inhuman violence of the 21st-sides is subtly, effectively juxtaposed with the brutality and anger of the 16th-siders. Andrea again faces an impossible but emotionally engaging situation: choosing between her murderous 16th-Century lover and her destructive 21st-side counterparts. Like Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book, this is perfect for sophisticated YA readers.
It is probably no coincidence that there’s a positive quote from Philip Pullman on the jacket of Susan Price’s latest novel for teenagers, her sequel to The Sterkarm Handshake. The success of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has changed the way we view writing for the kids.
The fact that A Sterkarm Kiss is a novel aimed at young adults seems a moot point. The field is now so sophisticated that it’s difficult to determine exactly what elements make ‘teenage book’ as opposed to just ‘a book’.
Andrea Mitchell is killing time working as a barmaid when she spots the love of her life, the warrior Per Sterkarm. Per, however, should be back in the sixteenth century, not getting pissed out of his mind in modern boozer. Meanwhile the Time Tube, a short drive across half a millennium, is up and turning once more. FUP, the company that owns the Tube, is brokering an uneasy peace between the Sterkarms and their arch-enemies, the Grannams.
James Windsor, the slimy head of FUP, offers Andrea the chance to go back in time and renew her relationship with Per, a chance she jumps at, despite feeling that it might be a huge mistake. And a huge mistake it is.
Andrea isn’t always a likeable character. Having left her unattractive but reliable boyfriend to return to hunky Per, she actually appears ready to bunk down with the first bit of old school rough that gives her the time of day – hardly a good morality lesson for the kids.
So that’s the sex covered – how about the violence? Well, Kiss is often shockingly graphic in its brutality, no matter how old you are.
The sense of place in A Sterkarm Kiss is palpable, and at a taut 300 pages , the book doesn’t outstay its welcome. If you’re a fan of historic fantasy, don’t let the teenage tag put you off.