The Heart of the Circle
The Heart of the Circle addresses inequality and the right to love in a magical modern-day Tel Aviv. Where sorcerers and “normies” are growing ever more divided, Keren Landsman (Broken Skies) explores her power as an author and brings magic into a familiar world – and a familiar fight.
For me, The Heart of the Circle, despite its themes, was a relatively easy read. I would have loved to have seen more detail about the place in which the novel unfolds, because I was interested to discover a little more of Israel through this story. That being said, I found myself really invested in the characters and their fight, which I believe must be reflective of current affairs in Tel Aviv.
Despite being set in Israel, the book’s metropolitan backdrop could have been any city. Our protagonist, Reed, is a likeable “empath” whose power is the ability to read, share, and experience the emotions of other people. He’s also gifted in the way he can “manoeuvre” or alter how people feel, passing feelings from one person to another, most of the time for good, but sometimes to attack. Other sorcerers can control the elements: water, fire, earth, and air. Then there are some, known as damuses, who have visions of all the possible futures.
The novel is set in a time of unrest. Though sorcerers and normies once lived relatively harmoniously, fear of magic and a group of extremist sorcerers have spread growing prejudice and discrimination amongst folk without powers. Reed and his friends are part of a group of people protesting for a more inclusive and equal future. The story follows the weeks leading up to a particular day of protest, in which the damuses believe the present will take one of two paths: continued discrimination and prejudice, or a new and inclusive way of living. It is imperative that they steer the course of time in their favor. The closer that day comes, the more tension builds, and the more it seems to revolve around Reed himself and those closest to him.
Landsman’s characters are multidimensional and their relationships to each other are thorough, engaging, and relatable. Woven into the action plot is an intense queer romance between Reed and an American empath, Lee. I really enjoyed seeing their love story unfold as their understanding of one another develops. Because both are empaths, it adds an unusual and inventive aspect to their relationship, as they can both enter and explore the emotional landscape of the other – and alter it.
I think the standout quality of Landsman’s book is her attention to what it means to be empathetic. In most societies there is still division – between race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and class, among others. This novel demonstrates, by personifying empathy, the power that is held by those, like Reed, who can understand how others feel. It also reveals the lengths to which some people will go to create a world they believe in. It is so very important that all of us are treated as equals and that we take an active role in the forming of our future; to create a world that we all want to live in, we need to hear everyone’s voice and consider all people.