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 political 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?
Keren's one of those real-life superheroes: in civilian life she's a doctor working with disadvantaged people in Tel Aviv, while in her writing life she's a multiple award winner of Israel's Geffen Prize. The Heart of the Circle is her debut novel, an enchanting fantasy translated from Hebrew by Daniela Zamir. – Lavie Tidhar
Winner of the Geffen Award for Best SFF Novel 2019
"A fascinating and original urban fantasy… Landsman demonstrates virtuoso writing ability, building a fascinating plot, an impressive combination of sources of inspiration and rare emotional depth, which make reading a sweeping experience and the book suitable not only for fans of fantasy and science fiction but for every reader."– Israel Hayom
"The best speculative fiction pushes the boundaries of real life to make a point; Landsman's novel in which the members of a group are persecuted—and killed—for their differences as they are blamed for others' problems does just that in a masterful show of skill and understanding of the possibilities of the genre."– Booklist
"Everything about The Heart of the Circle is fresh and bright and joyful, even the hard parts. It's beautifully, artistically, artfully written, and it's entirely worth your time."– Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author of October Daye and InCryptid
"Her skill with the world-building of this alternate reality is masterful and I found myself drawn into the sociopolitical and geopolitical aspects of this novel… This is the perfect subject to examine during such turbulent times, and I can only encourage more writers to follow her path… Landsman's novel is exceptionally paced and full of intriguing characters and concepts"– Grimdark Magazine
The day after the murder we sat in a circle at the Basement. Their food sucks, the alcohol selection leaves much to be desired, but there are books lining every inch of the walls, the smell of wood, and music you don't have to scream over to have a conversation. We were sheltered from the outside world, with only familiar faces around us. It was hot and damp, typical for mid-July, the air-conditioner powerless against a room packed with people
wearing sullen pouts. We sat on the side couch, next to the shelves crammed with books, sock puppets and burned out candles. My shirt was sticking to my back; Daphne placed her head on my shoulder and I sniﬀed her curls. I wrapped my arm around her, letting her nestle in my embrace. They were all so sad, everyone saying, "We have to stop the next murder," but no one had any ideas. I was drained of tears.
Rhyming chants from the high schoolers' protest on the street above us infiltrated the pub between songs.
"They're going to get their asses kicked," someone behind me said.
"They have to learn to fend for themselves," came a reply. I stopped listening.
"Your curls are tickling me," I said to Daphne.
THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE
She hugged me, looked up and said, "One day your beard will tickle me."
The first murder was agonizing. Incessant tears and self-blame. It took some time to realize we couldn't have stopped it, that none of us could have changed what had happened. We have since developed a routine. Getting out of the house helps. Being around people helps even more.
I touched my chin. "Beards itch."
Letting out a sound between a laugh and a sob, she lowered her head back onto my shoulder. Her curls got into my nose again. I stroked her hair without saying a word.
This time we didn't know the murdered girl. A photo of her was placed on the bar top, next to the other photos, surrounded by little candles. The faces in the various photos began to blend together. They were all smiling at the camera, heads aslant with mischievous expressions that made them look younger than they really were, all against a slightly blurred background. Brown eyes, black eyes, blue eyes. Hair in diﬀerent colors, diﬀerent styles. Men. Women. When the first murder happened we cried for a week in the city square, refusing to leave until the prime minister promised she would personally investigate. After the second murder, our tears were silent. The third – we stopped crying.
There was the pathetic attempt at revenge organized by a few pyros after the first. They got caught before they reached their target. Speaking for the cameras, the spokesperson for the police Prevention of Future Crimes Unit explained theirs was a sacred duty. The bodies dangled from the gallows behind him. Daphne cursed him for a whole hour, then cried herself to sleep.
I closed my eyes. Someone switched the music to depressing peace songs. Give Peace a Chance.
Matthew, my brother, plopped himself on the armrest next to me. "If I hear that song one more time, I'm going to break someone's fingers."
He was wearing the same clothes I saw him in yesterday, before he left for work. A T-shirt with 'Stop the Violence' printed on it, jeans in desperate need of a wash, and sneakers.
"What are you doing here?" I whispered to him. "It's dangerous.
You remember what happened last time."
"If you get stabbed, you're going to want someone around you who knows how to use a tourniquet."
I rubbed my hand where the scar still hurt. "If you get your arm broken because of me, Mom would never let me forget it."
"Don't worry, I've already landed a permanent position at the hospital. Not even a shattered arm could get me kicked oﬀ the ward." He winked, and I could feel the fear lurking inside him.
Daphne straightened her back towards him. "Hey, Matthew." Matthew walked passed me and hugged her. "Hey, babe."
I leaned back, waiting for them to break up their hug.
Matthew unzipped his backpack. "Mom sent sandwiches. And before you say anything, I know." He handed me one. It was wrapped in a paper napkin with my name scribbled on it.
I took it from him. White bread with chocolate spread. Matthew took out another sandwich and handed it to
Daphne. Our mom had started treating her like family from the moment she abandoned the fantasy that Daphne would magically transform from a close friend into a girlfriend. I knew Mom had expected Matthew to fill the spot I didn't want, and I knew he tried; moreover, I knew how much Daphne had hated turning him down. She said he wasn't her type, that he was like a brother to her, but I knew it was because he wasn't like us, and neither of us had the heart to tell him.
"I know," Matthew repeated, "but she's just trying to help."
I knew it was Mom's way of showing support from the first time she had sent Matthew to the pub with food for us, ignoring every social convention. She knew what kind of pasta each of us liked, and even made separate salads because I couldn't stand cucumbers and Matthew hated onions. But the announcement that another
THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE
person was murdered in one of our rallies must have thrown her oﬀ balance. It wasn't like her to forget I don't eat chocolate.
I handed Matthew the sandwich. "You want one?"
His beaming smile almost made me grin. "I thought you'd never oﬀer." He wolfed it down in three bites.
"Want me to order you something?" Daphne asked while nibbling her sandwich.
"I can't eat. I'm too, too…" I waved the idea away.
"It's the Reed Diet," Matthew said while chewing. "Stage one – go somewhere that has lots of really sad people. Stage two – be too overwhelmed with everyone's feelings to eat. Stage three – vanish into thin air."
I feigned a pout. His attempt at a joke might have worked had he himself not been overcome with fear and loss.
He poked me. "Come on, I'm just kidding."
"You forgot a crucial stage," I said, holding up a finger. "What?"
"Be born a moody," I replied and smiled. He knew me well enough to know it wasn't a real smile. Just as I knew him well enough to read him without having to read him.
"I hate that term." Matthew scrunched up his napkin. "It's oﬀensive. I don't understand how you can use it."
"It's called reappropriation," I said, wearing my pedagogical face. "You take a derogatory term and turn it into a–"
"Oh, hush already," Daphne interrupted me, slapping my knee. "I'd seriously advise hitting 'unsubscribe' to all those overbearing online groups of yours." She shot Matthew a look. "Saw anyone you like?"
Matthew grimaced. "No, but I'll take what I can get."
I looked at Daphne and sighed. "You really think this is an appropriate time for this?"
"Poor Matthew," Daphne giggled, ignoring me.
Matthew stuck the crinkled napkin in his backpack and said, "The girl behind you is cute."
I sighed again, louder this time, and turned around. Forrest and Aurora were making out on the couch behind us, his fingers running through her hair. Daphne and I met them during our
college days and the four of us have been friends ever since. He was a chubby redhead and she was built like a beanstalk, almost devoid of feminine features. They had been marching close to us only seconds before the murder, Forrest making sure I was drinking enough because it was a hot day.
Matthew was probably referring to the girl wearing the 'Peace Starts Within' shirt, who was visibly ignoring all the men trying to chat her up. Next to her sat a scrawny, pasty looking guy who seemed vaguely familiar; I was busy trying to remember where I knew him from when the woman sitting on his other side looked up and our eyes met. I froze.
"Ivy," I said.
"Where?" Matthew sprang up.
She was wearing a blue shirt with a white ribbon, hair pulled back into a ponytail. She looked away and said something to the guy sitting next to her. Her brother.
"He's cute," Daphne said.
"Don't go there. He's not for you." Daphne kept looking at them.
"He's Ivy's brother. You don't want anything to do with him." "If I was going to judge every person by their brother…"
Daphne said, cocking her head towards Matthew with a smile. "Excuse me," someone standing above us said. It was Ivy's
scrawny brother. I tried to recall his name. The last time I saw him he was about to be released from the army. Then it came to me.
"I saw my sister was making you uneasy. I asked her to leave." Oleander smiled at Daphne, clearly ignoring my presence.
"Lovely," I blurted.
Oleander held his hands out and said, "I'm just trying to help." "Help who?"
THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE
"I'm not my sister."
The emotions between Daphne and Oleander shot through me like an electrical current. Daphne slapped my thigh again. "Let it go. It's been years." She placed her half-eaten sandwich on my knee. "Don't eat that. You'll have the worst stomach ache tomorrow." I wanted to stop her, but she just shot me a look, got up and left. I knew that look all too well. Drop it, it said. Let me live my life. Once Daphne joined them, the conversation behind me livened up.
"I can't believe Daphne can actually find someone to hook up with in this mess," Matthew said, waving both hands in the air. "What do I have to do to find someone?"
"You think I'm the right person to answer that question?" I scooted over, letting him stretch out next to me.
Matthew fell silent, the twinkle in his eye fading. He looked down and picked at the threads coming out of the strap of his old backpack. It was standard military issue, the symbol of the medical corps printed on its side. I knew what he was about to ask, and I knew I had to let him ask it before I answered.
"Mom's asking," he said and paused. "Well, I'm asking, but also Mom."
Matthew took a deep breath. "How close were you when it happened?"
"Close enough," I replied. That wasn't the real question. "Because it was…" Matthew paused again, grabbed the strap of
his bag and looked at me. "It was really scary this time."
It was. I knew because I was there. I saw the knife. I felt the life seeping out of the girl. I held Daphne whose knees buckled when all those futures came crashing down on her.
"We're worried. All of us. Including me. I don't… I don't know what I would have done if it had been you." He took my hand in his, like when we were children and he had to console me whenever the neighbors spat on me as we passed by them. Eventually Dad decided we had to move, and we picked up and
left the north for a more centrally located city, full of all kinds of people and feelings.
"Maybe you could…" Matthew's voice cracked. "I know this is important to you and Daphne. It's important to me too. But… maybe you could…"
It was the same conversation we had had dozens of times: My parents want me to stop attending the rallies, I explain to them that without the rallies nothing will change, they don't listen, and I ignore them. But my big brother was scared, and I couldn't just shrug him oﬀ.
"I'm just really worried," he said, fixing me with his pleading eyes. "You have to be careful."
I put my other hand on his.
"Please," he begged, his voice wavering. He was supposed to ask us to stay home. Daphne had told me he would. To not attend the next rally. To sit this one out and look after ourselves, like everyone else who had stopped showing up at the rallies. There were fewer and fewer marchers each time, and more and more candlelight vigils afterwards. The police claimed they couldn't prevent the murders if we insisted on marching, but at the same time they released announcements about the arrests of potential murderers, people who none of the damuses I knew deemed dangerous.
Matthew didn't say anything but "Please." Nothing more. And left his hand in mine. I squeezed it and wondered whether we were too old to hug.
"OK," I answered the question he hadn't asked.
"Thanks." It wasn't the dialogue Daphne had predicted. She could only foresee probabilities, of course, but she saw this conversation with a certain degree of clarity: Matthew asks us to stop attending the rallies, I object, he whips out two arguments, I find a compromise, and we manage to work things out.
It would have been easier had Daphne been there with me, but she was busy flirting with Oleander. I could feel her easing up, becoming softer. It felt nice to be swept along with her. To feel her open up to another human being. I closed my eyes.
THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE
Matthew picked up the sandwich from my knee and unzipped his backpack. His fear was abating. All he needed was to see us, to know we were OK. Taking something out of his bag, he let out a small, quiet sigh, leaned back and stretched out his legs.
I opened my eyes. A weighty book with small print lay open on his knees. It was too dark to read, and he was shining a small flashlight on the pages.
I lifted the book cover. "Approaches to Laparoscopic Knee Surgery," I read out loud.
Matthew nodded. "And it's more complicated than you'd think."
"Good to know. I won't try it then."
Without looking up from his book, he dug into his backpack and fished out a paperback with a colorful cover and a mini clip- on book light. "I thought this might help."
It was the adventure book we used to read as kids. Five children walk into a toy closet and find a magical kingdom where it's summer all year round. I opened the book, feeling the light fragrant breeze carried from between its pages, so much more palpable than the dying breaths of air the tormented air- conditioning exhaled. This book was the reason I had decided to become a moodifier and go into the emotional design business when I grew up. I dove into the world in which children could make a diﬀerence and defeat evil all on their own.
Halfway through the book I sensed an unfamiliar consciousness. I looked up. Matthew was still immersed in his textbook. Around us people were either making out or sitting in small groups with their heads bowed. A few of the high schoolers had joined us, proudly boasting their fresh bruises and scolding the "geriatrics" for hiding in a pub instead of standing outside with them and stirring up a riot. Behind me, Forrest and Aurora were in a heated discussion, fragments of which floated my way. She, as usual, was insisting on carrying out the revolution from within the political system by infiltrating the major parties.
He, as usual, supported armed resistance and forming squads
to patrol the streets, ensuring our safety. They were going at it in high-pitched tones until someone mentioned the Sons of Simeon, and they both instantly turned against him.
"Excuse me?" asked a woman with short hair, standing above me wearing a floral summer dress and tightening the fabric around her thighs. "Mind if I sit here?" The tension she exuded stood in stark contrast to her bright tone.
I shrugged. "Free country." "So they keep saying."
She was so tense I could barely feel her. I scooted over. She sat down on the ottoman next to me. "I'm Reed, and this is Matthew."
I nudged Matthew with my leg. He looked up, smiled, and went back to his book. I didn't sense a change in him. He probably won't even remember her.
"I'm Sherry." She held out her hand. A silver charm bracelet was looped around her wrist.
"I'm a moody."
Matthew muttered something under his breath. I ignored him. "I know you don't actually need the sense of touch to do what
you do," she said, looking me straight in the eye, "and I'm trusting you won't try anything. Besides…" She turned her hand palm down, fingers spread outwards. A pebble. "We have rules, right?"
We shook hands. The charms crushed against my skin. They were a nice, cool contrast to the humidity hanging in the room.
"That's a nice charm."
"My mom makes me wear it," she said and shrugged. "You know what moms are like."
I nodded. "My mom would want me to wear a hazmat suit whenever I go out."
Sherry grinned and brushed the hair oﬀ her face. Too short to tuck around her ears, it bounced right back. She looked at Matthew and asked, "Are you a moody too?"
Matthew looked up from his book and said, "No, an orthopedist. Reed takes people's pain away, and I make them feel it."
THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE
We both laughed at his stupid joke. Sherry shifted her gaze between the two of us and smiled politely. "I'm a cop."
My smile froze. "You were at the rally?"
"Every single one in the last two years, since…" she fell silent. "Since Flint," I finished the sentence for her. At that rally, a
bomb had been tossed into the middle of the crowd, detonated by an unknown pyro. It was the Sons of Simeon's first murder.
Nothing was ever the same again. They saw themselves as the heirs of Simeon Ben Shetach, the Sanhedrin murderer during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus.
"I'm one of those nutcases who volunteer to actually go the rallies instead of staying at the station and getting the reports after the fact." Sherry bit her bottom lip. "I'm also involved in the surveillance of potential murderers."
"You're supposed to tell me not to worry, that this time you'll get him for sure," I said, trying not to sound bitter. I didn't mention that her volunteering didn't help us. That the police hadn't managed to prevent a single murder, and that the cops mostly stayed on the sidelines and never made any arrests.
Matthew kicked me. "Be polite."
"He's very polite," Sherry said quietly. "Most people here won't let me anywhere near them once they find out what I do for a living."
"We're nicer than most," Matthew said, smiling at her.
Before Sherry could answer, Daphne appeared above her, almost tripping over the ottoman. She crouched between us, opened Matthew's backpack and took out what was left of her sandwich. "I'm taking Oleander back to our place," she said and winked at me. "Don't come home too early."
I was torn between my desire to keep her away from him and the urge to wish her a flaccid night. "Just keep the noise down, OK?"
"Sure thing," she said, and got up.
Sherry smiled. "It's good to see that at least for some of us life goes on as usual."
Crossing his legs, Matthew said, "It's just a shame those some of us aren't into me." He sounded bitter but smiled, and we moved
on to small talk, ignoring all the political debates around us, which were simmering to a boil courtesy of the late hour and the alcohol. Forrest launched into a diatribe about how 'if we don't help ourselves, no one's going to help us,' while Aurora kept countering with 'armed resistance would just set public opinion against us,' and the usual 'we have to understand their motives, we have to find common ground'.
Sherry glanced at me. "You disagree?"
I tried to show as little emotion as possible. "After the votes for Change from Within failed to reach the threshold? To get even one seat? No."
Sherry held her hand flat, palm facing upward. "We have a chance with the major parties. Flint managed to get into parliament."
"And got killed. And no one even investigated it seriously. It's been two years and not a single lead."
Matthew shifted in his seat. I looked at him and asked, "What?" "Nothing." He shook his head.
"I'm not running for parliament."
"Good," he said, tightening his lips into a grin. "God forbid you should make a decent salary."
I tried being annoyed at him, but it was impossible. "Never mind the salary, what would I do with a car?"
Sherry looked at him, then at me, and said, "And a driver." She smiled, and for a moment she looked pretty.
"We'd never find parking. The poor guy would have to circle the neighborhood all night."
We got to talking about our apartments, and from there to even more trivial, mundane matters. Sherry had three cats, each of which had run away to a diﬀerent neighbor during one of the heavy storms last winter, and she told us how she frantically
knocked on every door in her apartment building late at night to try bring them home. Matthew asked whether I could have tracked
THE HEART OF THE CIRCLE
them down by attuning to their feelings, which eventually led to the story of how I caught the mouse that had set up camp in one of our kitchen cupboards last year.
By the end of the evening, when Matthew gave me a ride home, I felt a little less dismal.