Sorcerers fight for the right to exist and fall in love in The Heart of the Circle, an extraordinary alternate world fantasy thriller by award-winning Israeli author Keren Landsman. We’re excited to share the cover and an excerpt preview from the English language edition, translated by Daniella Zamir and available August 2019 from Angry Robot.
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?
…The elementalists stood in a group before me. The first time I participated in a mock battle was in the military. Daphne and I fought together against every elementalist on the base. There were more than fifty of them, and they still complained that they were outnumbered.
The moody stood next to me, and the damus slightly behind us. Her name was Gaia and his name was Guy. You didn’t have to be a moody to sense how much they liked each other. Guy blushed every time he looked at her, and her expression softened when she thought no one was looking. Gaia considered me with her gaze. “Do you even remember how to fight?”
I rolled up my sleeve, exposing the fresh scar. It was still pink, shiny with newly formed skin. I waited until I could feel her pain dissolve, then rolled my sleeve back down. “Anything else you want to ask?”
Gaia blew a pink bubblegum bubble and popped it. “Bring it on.”
“Follow me.” I pulled a few of her feelings in my direction and felt her incorporating herself into me. Not fully, that would be impolite. She only sent me her aggression. Guy cleared his throat behind me. I felt his nerves grating.
All at once the world was ablaze; a wall of fire stood between us and the elementalists, the flames flaring when the airheads threw oxygen into it. The earth split beneath my feet and filled with thick mud. The pebbles and splashers were working together. If we moved, we’d slip. It was an interesting tactic.
Gaia held her breath. I felt her panic. The splashers linked their arms together behind the screen of fire.
Behind us, Guy was moving between futures, keeping the elements they were casting at us at bay. The fire didn’t touch us. He was young, and not as good as Daphne. She could move so that we wouldn’t even feel the heat. He only managed to keep the fire from scorching us. My and Gaia’s job was to neutralize the other sorcerers.
The force swirled around me, and it took serious effort to penetrate it. Maneuvering sorcerers was much more complicated than maneuvering normies. I could feel the headache coming on. It wasn’t the kind that would pass within a few hours, like after a shift at the Sinkhole.
I fumbled my way out and led Gaia with me. I showed her where to push on the other consciousnesses, making sure to avoid touching Matthew’s. I knew his psyche inside out. Gaia’s hesitation read loud and clear; I sent her an irritated wave and pulled her in my direction again. There was no time for decorum. The other side had given its consent, and we had a job to perform.
The pebbles crumbled the earth beneath me. I tripped, and Gaia pulled me back up. They were smart enough to direct their attacks at me and not her. Hail reigned down. Guy groaned, intercepting it. Gaia’s hesitation dissipated, making way for anger. Childish, petty, but enough to drive her into action. We pressed all the elementalists’ fear buttons, increasing the insecurity inherent in some, and the confusion in others. A rivulet of joy flowed from Gaia to me. I wondered whether it was the first time she allowed herself to let loose like that.
Our opponents tried their best to fight, hurling everything they had at us, but their power was dwindling. Something wet hit my face. The splashers must have put some serious effort into their attempt to create rain in the middle of the summer. The air was heavy with humidity, which the pyros’ fire was supposed to evaporate.
Their impossible effort was our opportunity to break through the wall. We projected our combined consciousness, planting nausea, dizziness and headaches inside them.
The fire dissipated and the mud underneath our feet hardened. Four people were crouching on the ground in front of us, throwing up. A pebble was lying on her back with her eyes closed. I felt her lightheadedness. Forrest nodded at us, and I returned the gesture with a small bow.
“Wow,” Guy said.
Gaia looked at me, panting. Her relief washed over me, as well as a little of the expected headache. I blocked her out. My temples were throbbing.
She chewed her bubblegum. “I thought the famous Reed Katz would be a little less—”
“Scarred?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Old.” She popped a pink bubble and smirked.
I smiled at her, overcome with nostalgia. The young faces. The transformation of young individuals into a tight, empowering group. No. I wouldn’t be volunteering again. “You can come over,” one of the splashers called out to Matthew. “We’re done.”
I expected him to join me, but instead he ran towards the back of the group of elementalists, where some were still doubled over, vomiting, and the pebble was prostrated on the ground, breathing slowly with her eyes closed. He leaned over her, held her wrist and spoke to her quietly.
I approached them and crouched next to Matthew.
“You did this?” he asked, staring at me with his jaw clenched.
“It was part of consensual battle.”
“Can you stop it?”
Forrest came and knelt by the other side of the pebble. “No.”
Matthew looked at him.
“Moodies don’t maneuver sorcerers,” Forrest said. I nodded in affirmation.
“You maneuvered her,” Matthew said, “you maneuvered all of them.” He gestured at the group.
“It was part of a consensual battle,” I reiterated. “If I did it now, it would be…” I searched for the right word. Immoral? Obscene?
“It’s simply not done,” Forrest completed my sentence. “Thanks for looking out for us. We know what we’re getting into when we take on psychics.”
Matthew turned to me again. “Did you win?”
“That’s usually the case.” I felt very mature when I managed not to say, ‘I told you, you don’t have to worry about me.’ My headache was beginning to drill holes in my temples.
Matthew looked at me. “You were hit by fire balls, there was exploding hail, and you, you didn’t do anything… and….”
I shrugged, trying to appear indifferent. I poked around Matthew, searching for pride. His little brother had beaten elementalists right in front of him. But all I found was fear. “You think you can stop whoever comes after you,” he said.
“And if you’re wrong? If someone attacks you and you miss, just once, I’ll be an only child.” His whisper sounded like a whistle when he said, “You didn’t do anything,” he repeated. “There were flying fire balls, and you just stood there.”
I felt the fear mounting inside the teens around me. I had to reassure not only Matthew but them as well.
I placed my hand on his. “I had a damus on my side, who made sure we’d remain in a present in which nothing could hurt me. And I had a moody to empower me, and we both saw to it that none of the elementalists would want to hurt the damus.”
“But you don’t always walk around with a seer by your side, and—”
“Daphne has my back. And I have hers. I don’t go outside before she assures me that I’ll make it back in one piece.”
“At the rallies they do hurt sorcerers,” Matthew said, his tone stern.
“Only elementalists,” I said, and immediately felt Forrest recoiling behind us. Damn it. I tried to rephrase. “They can’t hurt—” I was going to say ‘moodies’ before I remembered how much Matthew loathed the term. “Empaths, or seers. We psychics know when they’re trying to hurt us, and we…” I stopped, and tried again. “No one can survive an attack by an empath or a seer. That’s why they never go after us head-on.”
Matthew bit his lip. “If you die, I’ll kill you.”
I smiled. “Even worse—if I die, Mom will kill me.”
Excerpted from The Heart of the Circle, copyright © 2019 by Keren Landsman