published: 13th August 2019
Sorcerers fight for the right to exist and fall in love, in this extraordinary alternate world fantasy thriller by award-winning Israeli author Keren Landsman.
Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?
Galley provided by publisher
There is little as disappointing and annoying as loving the characters in a book you otherwise deeply dislike. Unfortunately, The Heart of the Circle was one of those books.
The whole plot centres around an allegory for oppression in a vaguely fantastical modern day. In this case, sorcerers (of which there are various kinds) are the ones oppressed. Why? It’s never really explained, we just have to go with it. Reed is a sorcerer who can feel and manipulate people’s emotions (a moodie), though again, how his powers actually work and the limits they have are never explained. Similarly, every other power (elementals, psychics, you name it). Sure, if they use their powers overly much, they end up depleted (and then seem to take their magic from normal people? Not clear), but they seem to be able to do pretty much anything up until that point.
But anyway, the story goes as so: The Sons of Simeon are terrorising the sorcerer community, targeting individuals and businesses who support the sorcerers and killing the sorcerers themselves. And the government is content to just sit back and watch. But, honestly, this is where the plot became a little fuzzy for me. The Sons of Simeon end up targetting Reed, though it isn’t entirely clear why. They want him in a particular place because then they could try kill someone but he would die getting in the way or something, and ultimately they just want sorcerers to rule the world. And I’m still so confused what killing Reed had to do with any of it. It was a plotline that needed more brainpower put into it than I was willing to give. (And don’t even get me started on how confused I was about what Reed actually did to stop all this.)
As a whole, the book seems a little loose. As I said, the limits of the magic system are never really delineated, so when the plot relies on that system, it becomes confusing. Also confusing is the number of plot points that are floating around, and left kind of unresolved. Some of them tie into the denouement, some don’t, and in all, that makes it seem not a very clean plot. Similarly, some character traits are suddenly introduced with no foreshadowing, and relationships make leaps forward within a couple of pages.
And despite all the action, particularly what comes at the end, the book still manages to feel as though it’s just plodding along. There was never any urgency to the writing and the plot. This was probably not helped by the characters going from moving hectically to a long periods of inaction, partly because this book seems to be trying to be a romance as well as a fantasy novel all at once.
But, all plot discussions besides, I was turned off this book very early on by the setting, and the biphobia and cissexism. Let’s take the setting first. I didn’t realise it was set in Israel before I started reading this (more fool me for not reading the blurb at all). I don’t know about you, but a fantasy allegory for oppression, set in Israel? It just feels uncomfortable and turning a deliberate blind eye to actual real life events there. With the biphobia and cissexism, this turned up within the first few chapters. Reed meets an ex-boyfriend and makes comments along the lines of “he’d never expressed interest in the opposite sex” and “people change […] maybe there’s hope for us yet finding out we were always attracted to women”. And later, the ex “will be jealous, but it’ll be too late because he switched teams”. And if that biphobia wasn’t bad enough, how it would be a shock, seeing his girlfriend naked and realising “she was missing something”.
So, in the end, it was a shame I liked the characters, almost, because the rest of this book was a big ol’ disappointment.