Cover Image: The Heart of the Circle

The Heart of the Circle

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Member Reviews

Due to a sudden, unexpected passing in the family a few years ago and another more recently and my subsequent (mental) health issues stemming from that, I was unable to download this book in time to review it before it was archived as I did not visit this site for several years after the bereavements. This meant I didn't read or venture onto netgalley for years as not only did it remind me of that person as they shared my passion for reading, but I also struggled to maintain interest in anything due to overwhelming depression. I was therefore unable to download this title in time and so I couldn't give a review as it wasn't successfully acquired before it was archived. The second issue that has happened with some of my other books is that I had them downloaded to one particular device and said device is now defunct, so I have no access to those books anymore, sadly.

This means I can't leave an accurate reflection of my feelings towards the book as I am unable to read it now and so I am leaving a message of explanation instead. I am now back to reading and reviewing full time as once considerable time had passed I have found that books have been helping me significantly in terms of my mindset and mental health - this was after having no interest in anything for quite a number of years after the passings. Anything requested and approved will be read and a review written and posted to Amazon (where I am a Hall of Famer & Top Reviewer), Goodreads (where I have several thousand friends and the same amount who follow my reviews) and Waterstones (or Barnes & Noble if the publisher is American based). Thank you for the opportunity and apologies for the inconvenience.

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My review:⭐⭐⭐

The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman is an urban fantasy set in Israel.

This book looks at one group being persecuted by another.  I found the idea of the book to be good, but I did find the story to be slow, and not always compelling.

It was interesting to read a book that was has been translated from Israeli, and to get an idea of what fantasy fiction is like in Israel.

I was given this book in exchange for an unbiased review, so my thanks to NetGalley and to Angry Robot.

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As an allegory, it's kind of a difficult book to read knowing it's Israeli. The early biphobia is a little much. However, I did like the characters and the powers were really nicely realized (though not delineated all that well).

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I just couldn’t get into this book sadly. But this has such a gorgeous cover. I found it hard to get use to the magic system and not enough explanations for understanding the magic of the sorcerers.

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i am ALWAYS looking for more translated books to read. not being originally an english speaker myself, i know that there are many gems out there that we usually never hear about because they were not written in the us-uk publishing world. however, the fact that this book is set in tel aviv and discuss forms of oppresion yet makes no actual comment on what goes on at the borders of the place it's set... did not sit well with me. i also needed a little more worldbuilding to really enjoy the story, i thought it lacked some explanations for both the magic and the political systems in place.

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The Sons of Simeon are religious extremists in Israel. Their focus is finding and persecuting sorcerers. This not exactly in line with government law, but the government tends to look the other way. When a demonstration ends with a brutal murder, the empath Reed becomes the next target for the extremist groups. Reed has sorcerer friends and 'normie' friends, all looking for ways to protect the unlikely target. But Reed is the one who will need to protect his friends from the Sons of Simeon. And it gets trickier when Reed's focus becomes distracted because he falls madly in love.

This book ... this book just didn't do anything for me.

On the surface, this should be right up my alley of interest. Alternate reality with sorcerers and empaths? Yeah, I like that. A familiar yet unique location (I've never been to Israel). I like that, too.

There's some romance here, which is fine - I don't read sci-fi/fantasy for the romance, but don't mind it being there. This romance happens to be a gay romance, which isn't my thing, but people and emotions ... that's pretty universal.

But there are a couple of problems here. First, it's NOT a sci-fi/fantasy with some gay romance. Our main character, Reed, seems overwhelmed with lust and this becomes a gay romance with shades sci-fi/fantasy overtones. There's a real subculture of these kinds of books, but I never expected to read this from a major sci-fi publisher.

The book tries to be an allegorical statement on oppression - making sure that we recognize the oppression in our own history, but it's so in-your-face that's it's not allegory.

The characters never drew me into the story and the world was not built to be very interesting. All that mattered was that a main character began pining for an ex-boyfriend early in the book and it never grows much from there.

This was an all-around disappointment.

Looking for a good book? The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman may appeal to a small circle of readers but you'll have to have some very specific reading interests to find this a worthy read.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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This book was hard for me to get into, perhaps a little too sci-fi for my taste. Interesting idea but was not for me.

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The Heart of the Circle is a contemporary speculative fiction about a version of the world where mages exist but are persecuted by a group of religious zealots called the Sons of Simeon.

The world-building in this book is scarce. There's a brief introduction to the different types of sorcerers, some elemental, others not, and how they relate to each other in this world where magic is normalized, but not necessarily accepted by all. At the same time, the world-building and "world conflict" aren't the point. The point are the pedestrian relationships between the main characters. Reed falls in love while his other friends are trying to steer him towards a future in which he lives. The friendships are deep, and it's so much more about the small moments they want to preserve: going to the pub or club, their mom coming over to meet significant others, what that one friend is really up to, etc. Reed and Lee's relationship had all the trappings of new love, plus an added layer in which they both can see the future through the eyes of a friend. The tension between living in fear and living every day like it's their last was tangible throughout.

They don't go out to defeat the Sons of Simeon and I loved how our characters weren't going to be the ones to fix it. There were definitely layers which might have gone over my head about the conflict in Israel in the present time, but I am absolutely not the authority to speak to those.

Definitely something which deals with the everyday despite allegorical conflicts and magic as a metaphor for the other.

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I tried to get into this book but I really wasn't able to. It had an interesting premise but after 100 or so pages, I couldn't. After a certain point, I started having trouble keeping up with what's happening and the characters and decided not to push through.

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I was a pretty big fan of this one! It was really cool to read an urban/low fantasy book set in Tel Aviv- it gave a breath of fresh air to a genre that can get repetitive. That being said, the focus of the book was definitely on the characters as much as the magic and that worked well since Keren Landsman wrote some great characters. I'd definitely be up for giving another book from this author a try!

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The Heart of the Circle is a fantasy novel set in an alternate world version of Israel, where some people are born with the power of sorcery. These people are shunned and segregated from much of the rest of society.

The story centres around an empath, Reed, and his friends. There are attacks on sorcerors and they are being killed. Reed becomes involved in trying to find out who is behind these attacks, but he is also putting himself and his friends in danger.

I really like the concept of the alternate world this book is based in. There are various different types of sorcerors, who are born with their powers. They have formed their own kind of underground society since they are not always welcome in the company of the normies. I like the ideas the author had about having white doors and white sections of the bus to be used by sorcerors only as a way of separating them from other people. I think the discrimination against the sorcerors is easily relatable to our society and the discrimination many people have really suffered throughout history.

I also really liked the plot of the book. It wasn't particularly unique or different, but it was a solid idea - someone is killing sorcerors, and Reed and his friends were trying to find out who it was and stop them. There was also a bit of a love story going on for Reed, which added another important dimension to the book. Alongside that, a lot of the book followed Reed in his life. You learned about his work, daily life, his past, his family and friends, and this did make the book a lot more rich and deep. You truly felt like you knew Reed by the end of the book.

However, the pace of the book is very slow and it is pretty long. Although it was well written, descriptive and emotional, I found it quite hard to get through and it took me a while to read this book. I wouldn't say that I didn't enjoy it, but I was quite glad when I reached the end. This is definitely more of a drama than a thriller, and if you like a hard hitting, fast paced book then this is not for you.

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Reed is unable to hide the fact he is a "moodifier," one with the ability to take in someone's emotions or change them. People often throw their moods toward him and he is regularly treated like a second hand citizen. Regularly exploited and treated as a threat, Reed finds himself living as a waiter and trying to keep his head down when he isn't protesting for sorcerers' rights. His circle of friends are being targeted by a group of religious extremists and the Israeli government does nothing to protect those who have the powers of a sorcerer. When Reed's former love reappears, returning from the United States, he finds himself both emotionally entangled and trying to survive being a target from the Sons of Simeon, an extremist group out for blood. 

I greatly enjoyed that this book was set in Israel, rather than someplace like the United States. It is a fair reminder that extremist activities can take place anywhere. The message is clear about human beings fearing and poorly treating that which they do not understanding. Keren Landsman's Heart of the Circle is perfectly poignant for the current age, and through sometimes the parallels are scary, this is an incredible story to help train readers to have more empathy.

Heart of the Circle is available now from Angry Robot.

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Keren Landsman’s The Heart of the Circle is set in a world like our own in which a fraction of the population are born sorcerers—people with extra abilities beyond the norm. Sorcerers are subdivided into elementalists and psychics—the former can control either air, water, fire or earth, and the latter are either empaths or seers. Empaths can feel and manipulate others’ emotions, while seers can see and manipulate possible futures.

The story takes place in present-day Tel Aviv, following Reed Katz, an empath, or ‘moody’ as the Israeli slang has it. Reed is not only a moody but a freelance ‘moodifier’, meaning he makes his living infusing art and literature with emotion—at least, when he’s not slinging coffees at the Sinkhole, a seafront cafe. The most important thing in Reed’s life is his best friend and roommate Daphne, a seer, or ‘damus’ (from Nostradamus, geddit?).

But life for sorcerers in Tel Aviv is getting more dangerous. While they’ve always been segregated from the normie population—different doors in public spaces and transport, separate areas and warning sounds—recently there have been a spate of killings targeting sorcerers’ protest rallies. And while the police stand by, the violence is only ramping up.

Landsman says in an interview that she was inspired to write The Heart of the Circle after a 16 year-old girl was killed at a Pride parade in Jerusalem. The queer analogue is certainly strong—sorcerers are treated as pariahs in every culture that’s mentioned in the book. What’s more, the main thread—the killings of sorcerers at protests—is itself wrapped around a queer love story.

However, it’s specifically because the story is a liberation narrative that I can’t help but take issue with the toothless rhetoric at its heart.

As I began reading The Heart of the Circle, I made some assumptions. The story is about members of a persecuted minority being targeted and murdered at demonstrations while they’re supposed to be protected by the police. Surely, surely, I thought, this book was going to contain a scathing critique of cops—cops at demos, cops at Pride, minority members of the force and the double-think that goes along with such opposing identities.

But I was wrong. The very worst thing you can say about the police force in The Heart of the Circle is that it’s ineffective. One of the main characters in the novel is Sherry, an earth elementalist as well as the cop heading up the investigation into the killings. While reading, I was always alert to the likelihood of her being corrupt, herself behind the terrorist attacks, but spoiler alert: she’s not. She is in fact presented as one of the most important and heroic characters in the novel. Even worse, Sherry’s politics are thoroughly assimilationist. She talks about how the onus should be on sorcerers to prove to ‘normies’ that they can be trusted, to earn their rights in society.

Which would be no more than I’d expect from a cop. But our main character, Reed, agrees wholeheartedly. The entire narrative places Sherry firmly in the right, never so much as questioning her or her ideas, even when they’re blatently bad, irresponsible, or plain old conservative.

As minority liberation narratives go, I don’t have much time for that. Not when we know cops deliberately allow killings of queer people to go uninvestigated. Not when we know how cops infiltrate and manipulate radical movements. In the whole messy history of human progress, when have the cops ever been on our side? (Hint: the answer is never.)

Another issue I had with The Heart of the Circle was technical: it simply dragged on too long. The plot’s not complicated—a community reeling from targeted murders on the one hand, a budding romance on the other. It should have been breathless, breakneck, alive with anticipation both good and bad. With the threat of death looming over our characters, extended scenes of TV watching and family dinners seemed to dissipate the tension and muddy the storyline.

Even when climactic events do happen, they don’t go anywhere. Just past the halfway point, a rally takes place. Everyone is on tenterhooks. Everyone’s preparing for a battle. But then the scene just… winds down. Nothing changes. We go back to limbo, waiting for the main event.

The love story at the heart of the book suffers from a similar problem. There are no real obstacles separating Reed and his love interest, so when they fall for one another, they hook up—it’s as simple as that. Since this happens early on, the events of the rest of the story are counterpointed by love scenes. While its nice to see a queer couple getting to be (more or less) happy, there was no growth, no achievement, and so the scenes felt meandering rather than vital parts of the book.

(I was, at least, happy to discover that this book does not Bury Its Gays.)

Don’t get me wrong—I love slice-of-life fiction. I grew up devouring fanfic alongside published fiction. I adore reading characters I love spending time with one another and connecting—or even disconnecting, if we wanna get sad on main—in meaningful ways.

And I did love these characters. Landsman really nails the vibe of a community of young people in an urban setting. I just wanted to see more significant interaction. I felt the choice of first person perspective led to too close a focus on Reed’s actions and Reed’s feelings, whereas I wanted to see more of Daphne, more of Matthew and Lee and even Sherry.

Ultimately, I felt like The Heart of the Circle could have been a lot better. The central conceit, of sorcerers as an oppressed demographic, has hella mileage. Tel Aviv as a setting was a delight to read. But the opportunities to really lean into the themes of the novel seemed to be missed. I followed Reed all the way to the end of the story because I so wanted to know what happens to him, because I did genuinely care about the characters in this book—and I was somewhat disappointed.

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The premise of this book was really intriguing, but unfortunately for me, the execution just didn't work. It tells the story of Reed, an empath living in Tel Aviv who finds himself embroiled in battle against the Sons of Simion who are targeting sorcerers. Firstly, the basic plot here is very confused and convoluted, so much so that I genuinely don't know what the Sons of Simeon were actually trying to accomplish. The prose feels disjointed and the narrative is just quite boring. Although the book isn't that long, it felt very long when reading and I just didn't get invested in any of the characters because I couldn't follow the thread of the narrative. Overall, I think the ideas within the narrative are interesting, but it is really difficult to parse them out and the reading experience left a lot to be desired.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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I tried several times to get into this book, and just couldn't make it happen. The sense of space in the world building and the characters felt muddled, things seem to happen without much thought other than for something to happen on the page, and although some major things happen the tone feels a bit suffocated, like no one's really feeling anything.

I didn't finish. I wanted to love it, as some of the ideas seemed interesting... but I just couldn't read it.

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The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman is a timely Israel-set urban fantasy novel in translation. I can't quite decide if I particularly enjoyed this one or not. What I did like about it is the magic. Otherwise though I wish we had a better sense of the world the story is set in and if I were more interested in the characters themselves.

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My thanks to Angry Robot for an eARC via NetGalley of Keren Landsman’s ’The Heart of the Circle’ in exchange for an honest review.

Set in Israel, this is an urban fantasy in which sorcerers exist and are campaigning for equal rites. Meanwhile, a group of religious extremists, named the Sons of Simeon, are persecuting them while the government turns a blind eye. It’s narrator, Reed, is an empath who becomes their next target.

Although I was drawn by its premise and striking cover art, sadly this just wasn’t a good fit for me. It seemed far too focused on dialogue between characters and I didn’t really get a sense of the world or magical system Landsman was portraying. It felt like I was plonked down in this setting and I found that I needed more exposition.

I suspect that it is a novel that is more suited to a different readership than myself. It felt too much like tuning in on a reality show about a group of hip twenty-somethings and their complicated love lives. Just not my thing with or without a magical component.

I did take a few runs at it, hoping that if I continued reading that it might grab me a few chapters in or I would become more invested in the characters but I just didn’t. So it was a DNF at 45%.

I won’t post this review to commercial sites due to not finishing. Clearly scanning other reviews there are readers that did find it a compelling story.

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Reading this story is like coming into the middle of a movie and not being allowed to ask any questions about what's happened before. I more or less understood what was happening right there and then, but there's all this history going on that I didn't follow and was never explained. I know this is a translated novel, but the very Israeli things were never explained either. I'm afraid I DNF'd this one after a lot of picking it up and putting it down.

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The only word I can find for this book is enthralling, once I started I was hooked and couldn't put it down.
Sometimes I found the plot slow paced, sometimes I couldn't connect to the characters but I never put it down because there was that unknown "something" that made me turn pages.
I can say I loved it, it's entertaining but at the same time it's full of food for thought.
It's set in Israel but it could be any city in the world, it talks about sorcerers but it could also talk about the current world situation. I think this the unknown quantity that made me keep on reading.
On a general level I loved the character development, the complex and fascinating world building and the plot.
I'm happy I discovered a new to me interesting author, I will surely look for other books written by this writer.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for this ARC, all opinions are mine

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Unfortunately this book was for me, I found it quite dull and the world building seemed to be lacking, the characters were the only redeeming feature, but unfortunately not enough for me to enjoy this.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion

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