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The Riverwoman's Dragon

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Anyone familiar with the Owen Archer series should go ahead and fully enjoy this latest episode set in 1375, a dark and violent tale of greed, witchcraft and murder. But if you are new to it, you might want to discover some of its previous titles in order to get better acquainted with the various characters recurrently present in this  brilliantly plotted saga from the beginning.

For me, this time around, I was much more attracted to the historical dimensions behind the story. Yes, there is a murder mystery at its heart but it's the atmosphere of doom prevalent throughout the novel that I found fascinating. The tail-end of the glorious reign of Edward III, now doddering and impotent and the long agonising death of his heir, the Black Prince, give this compelling novel an air of impending and unavoidable catastrophe as England slowly but surely moves towards the many sinister and very bloody events that will wreak havoc upon its tranquillity over the next one hundred years. A bone-chilling tale of dread and death where the bubonic plague is forever lurking at every corner, full of malevolent twists and turns and blessed with a large cast of unforgettable characters that runs the gamut of human emotions and follies from start to finish.

An exquisitely woven fictional tapestry of Medieval England that deserves to be discovered and enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever👍

Many thanks to Netgalley and Canongate/Severn House for this terrific ARC
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I’ve loved Candace Robb’s books for a long time. That being said, I’m happy to have read another extraordinary novel in this series. 
The plague, murder, and the perils of the family are a complicated labyrinth Owen and Magda must navigate if they are to survive, find justice, and thrive in the medieval world of York. Owen, ever troubled, ever burdened by what he sees and cannot see, and Magda whose wisdom and healing knowledge surpasses all but cannot cure all. The plaque appears to be settling in at York to munch on its bones. The murder of an honest and faithful man points in too many directions. Family being family, they’re getting in the way until they’re needed. Candace Robb weaves a lot of threads into her stories, there are many characters who each hold a length of the thread that will resolve the murders in York if the plague doesn’t get them first.
An excellent winter read to sit by the fire and savor.
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Owen Archer mysteries are always a gripping and highly entertaining read, this one is no exception.
A fascinating and vivid historical background, great characters, and a solid mystery that kept me guessing.
The author is a talented storyteller and this story is one of the best in this series.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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I was a little confused by this book. Magda the riverwoman spoke oddly compared to everyone else and I felt like things were happening very quickly and I was struggling to keep up. Many of the main characters weren't developed for the reader, we were expected to already know them. And then I read the author's note at the end and realized she had written about all the characters in previous books!
I really enjoyed reading about the period of time and the mysticism of the Riverwomens dragon on top of her house. Reading some of the earlier books would have definitely deepened my understanding of who the Captain was and the Apothecary too.
Thank you Netgalley for the ARC. This is my honest review.
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This thirteenth in the Owen Archer series begins in York in 1375. The pestilence draws closer, and dread permeates the town and its outskirts, where the poor are cared for by Magda Digby. Hailing from a long line of healers knowledgeable in the efficacy of plants, and gifted with the sight, Magda resides on a rock in the river Ouse, watched over by her dragon and some local lads, but never enters the town. As the Death encroaches further, the archbishop orders the parish priests to shun the local healers upon whom the citizens have relied for centuries, chastising the people for their sins.

When the body of a factor is found floating in the Ouse, fingers point at Magda, and Owen Archer, the city captain charged with defending all citizens, vows to guard her welfare, although Magda needs little protection. Owen, called ‘Bird-Eye’ by Magda for his lack of an eye, has healing skills and powerful intuition of his own. The arrival of Magda’s estranged daughter, Asa, who shunned her mother’s gentle teaching in favour of charms and spells, and the leech, Bernard, falsely claiming to be a healer, triggers unpleasant events, and Owen must sort truth from lies.

Robb’s timely story strikes close to home; the fear incited by the priests is similar to that provoked by government and multimedia today. Neighbours are eyed with suspicion, anger and resentment, midwives beaten in the street, people shunned for their beliefs. Magda’s Quaker-like thee, thou and thy speech pattern is delightful, and her referral to herself as Magda, rather than I or me, endeared me to her. Dialogue throughout the book is era-appropriate and helps set the tone. The healer has only appeared briefly in one of the early Archer books, but I would welcome seeing her return. An informative and engaging murder mystery, very well told.
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The past is another country, they do things differently there. Just because they DO things differently doesn’t mean that they ARE different. Human beings seem to be pretty much the same under the skin, no matter when or where they are born.

Warts and all, as the saying goes about whether an artist is willing to paint the truth instead of a pretty lie.

As this series has continued from its beginning in The Apothecary Rose, the political foment of the time and the mess it’s going to cause in Owen Archer’s very near future – meaning the Wars of the Roses that are just about to kick off. And there is some reference to events that are already in motion as this entry in the series begins.

But the burning heart – very nearly literally – of The Riverwoman’s Dragon is a witch hunt. So for this entry in the series the author has changed the point of view of the action from Owen Archer to the witch herself, the riverwoman Magda Digby.

And what a fascinating story it is!

Magda has been a part of the series from the very beginning. She is an elderly woman who lives on an island in the river Ouse, in a house that is either sheltered under or made up of or perhaps a bit of both, a wrecked boat whose dragon figurehead crowns the structure.

And possibly protects it.

Magda is one of the women who will be targeted by the actual witch hunts of the next few centuries. Not just because she’s old and lives alone, but because she’s a healer who uses herbs and roots and occasionally a few charms to mend her patients. She’s mysterious and a bit otherworldly and she serves the poor. She’s clearly not a member of the church, a church that fears what it does not control or understand, and women’s magic in general and Magda in particular are definitely things that the male-dominated church neither controls nor understands.

And the plague is coming. Again. Magda knows that when people are afraid, they lash out at anyone or anything perceived as “other” – and Magda is both.

So Magda is vulnerable, and someone has come to York to exploit that vulnerability. Not by a direct attack, but rather by spreading fear and uncertainty, through insidious whispers in dark corners, and through sermons preached by frightened and/or misogynistic clergy. Letting the whispers grow into a groundswell of terror and conspiracy theories, letting the frightened and disaffected do the actual dirty work of burning, looting and killing.

While the true evil hides in the shadows and bides his time, stirring the population of York into a frenzy, keeping Owen Archer busy protecting too many people on all sides, so that the evildoers can slip away and start over again in some other unsuspecting place.

Escape Rating A: Written during a real-life pandemic, this historical mystery is set during a real-life pandemic. Life imitates art imitates life in a kind of neverending spiral. But that’s human beings for you, all the way around.

The series as a whole, although it’s written in the third person, generally focuses its perspective and its action through Owen Archer. He’s the investigator of this historical mystery series and it’s his doings that bring the perpetrators to justice – or at least bring the reader to their catharsis.

But this is a story about the dangers that women face, their actions and their reactions, in a world where men hold all the power, so it’s fitting that the focus of this story switches from Owen to the healer Magda Digby. She, like Owen, is a protector, but because she is female, and does not kowtow at all to the church or to any man, she is an object of fear and suspicion, an easy target for men in power to use as a scapegoat when they need one. With the return of the plague, fear is running rampant among the populace, making a scapegoat for all of that fear an unfortunate necessity – at least from certain perspectives.

So a big part of what this story does is show just how easy it is for a few people to cast suspicion on anyone who is different. It’s also a story about desperate people clinging to anything that will drive their fears away or help them make more sense of something they rightfully fear, even if that sense is mistaken and goes against what they already know to be true.

Even if those in power are stoking their fears at the expense of people’s own self interest. A self-interest that they are already too frightened to come to grips with. And doesn’t all of that sound entirely too familiar?

So a huge part of this story is Magda Digby maneuvering around and/or outright ignoring the forces that are quite literally out to get her. She continues her self-appointed rounds, tending to the health of the people who live on the margins of her adopted city – even as some of them turn on her in fear and desperation.

Meanwhile, there is a series of crimes to be solved, even if not all of them are initially recognized as such. Because, again, the people attempting to raise the hue and cry are all women, and the perpetrators are men. Men who are in such positions that no other man can believe they might be villains – especially when all the accusers are “just women”.

This turned out to be a single-sitting read for me – minus the necessary ‘human breaks’. Magda has been a central character throughout the series, but always a mysterious one, as she would prefer. This is the first time we’ve seen a story mostly from her perspective, and it’s also the first time we’ve learned a bit about her past. She’s a character who straddles two worlds, the pagan or heathen societies that raised her and trained her versus the church-controlled city she lives on the edges of.

She’s a wisewoman who might just be a practitioner of real magic. Or might just be an old woman who has experienced a lot, shares the wisdom she has gathered in her long life, and just occasionally dreams that she is a dragon swimming in the river. That this particular question is never really answered feels like an integral part of her mystery.

And in the end, this one still manages to tie itself back into the long-simmering political crisis that is about to rear its ugly head, and to the events of the previous book in the series, A Choir of Crows. I enjoyed this entry in the series for the new insights it brought into a beloved character, its slightly different perspective on Owen Archer’s York, and for the way it echoed entirely too many 21st century crises by reflecting them into a past in which they fit just as well as they do today.
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1375 Medieval Mystery

What can I say! Forever I’ve been fascinated by Magda Digby, the Riverwoman, her dedication, her wisdom, her insights. More than other characters she’s called to me. So fitting to have a story devoted to Magda, skilled healer, reliever of suffering, attuned to the impossible, and mentor to Owen Archer. Two of  my favourite medieval characters.
Magda’s daughter Asa has returned to York. Impatient , greedy for knowledge, Asa has blamed Magda for her own shortcomings with her healing abilities. She has brought with her Einor, a cousin. One whom Magda sees possibilities for if he can overcome his greed.
The mystic aspect of Magda is grounded in the forest and the river. She lives outside of York. Available to those who seek her, yet far enough away to be not too caught up in the action of those who believe her a witch. The ordinary folk watch over Magda. One must take a coracle to reach her. Magda’s house is an upturned boat in the middle of the River Ouse with a dragon carving over the door. A dragon that protects our pagan healer. A dragon she connects with. Indeed as she reflects on things, Robb gives us a gorgeous insight into Magda’s thoughts. “ Eyes closed, Magda was one with her dragon, diving into the rich brown water, welcoming the flow against her skin, her hair riding the currents, replenishing body, heart, and mind… Magda sought release, racing through the waters, spinning, leaping, diving, one with her dragon.” 
Owen Archer sometimes catches a glimpse of that tie.
“ Turning back toward the house, Magda touched the dragon’s head, and for a moment it was as if the two became one, woman and dragon, completing each other, a being of fire and water, her scales aglow, hovering in the air, then gracefully diving into the river, but also Magda the woman Owen had always sensed, a warrior woman but with wise eyes that drew him in, clearing his mind of doubt.“
It’s a time of pestilence. Plague is marching North. A physician, a leech, Bernard has spoken out against the healers and midwives. He’s fixed his eyes on Magda for poisoning opinion against her. The cleric Dom Jerome appears to be supporting Bernard. Who will help the poorer of the community? Magda has been accused of sickening a merchant and causing his factor’s death. Suspicion combined with religious fervour is ugly. Owen is investigating. Somehow Asa is caught up in this focus on Magda.
It’s also a time for Owen to pay attention to his gifts. His ability to see what others can’t. Blind in one eye Captain Owen Archer has become more aware of nuances.
Archer and Brother Michaelo have their hands full trying to handle people’s fears about the plague, an unexplained death, the firing up of the populace by a suspicious leecher, and theft.
There’s movements within movements at work here. Greed, evil and death stalk the folk of York. Magda does what she can. As does Archer.
A superb blend of mystery, pestilence and mysticism.

A Canongate Severn House ARC via NetGalley 
Please note: Quotes taken from an advanced reading copy maybe subject to change
(Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)
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Many thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for the opportunity to review “The Riverwoman’s Dragon.” All opinions are my own.

The mystical arts – and Owen Archer’s awakening of his talents in that regard – are much in evidence in “The Riverwoman’s Dragon”, the latest in the long-running medieval series by Candace Robb.  Owen and his wife, Lucy are coming back from a visit to court as a return of the plague begins to percolate through the city of York.  Magda Digby, the “riverwoman” of the title, also the local “wise woman” is doing her best with her herbs and knowledge of such medicine to help those she can.  But she is being threatened;  such persons are seen as enemies to the established order, especially in times when God seems to be punishing everyone with a swift and awful death.

A body turns up, a person that Magda has had contact with.  And then her daughter shows up.  With a “son” in tow.  And there’s the “leech,” a pseudo-doctor who’s causing no end of trouble.  What his connection is, is hidden – for a time.  The complications from this will percolate throughout the book.

As captain of the city, it’s Owen’s duty to investigate deaths, and so he does, in between trying to figure out who is making trouble for Magda.  And worry about this new “gift” of his – how will that affect him?  There’s much of that new connection in this book, so just be aware that this is going to be another side to Owen’s personality.

This is also a story of how rumors and fear can lead to violence against once favored members of a community, ones that always have “done no harm.”  The medieval mind that is full of superstition, who believes that anyone who is different is in “league with the devil,” is much in evidence here.   Understand and appreciate our author denouncing that, as you read “The Riverwoman’s Dragon.”

It is also a tale of greed and bad blood.  But Owen ferrets out the truth, and expose the culprits.   “The best laid schemes o’mice an’ men.  Gang aft a-gley,” as Mr. Burns will say, some 300 years later.

An author’s note explains how the character of Magda came about and how the medieval concept of “wise woman” was elaborated upon for the series, and especially for this book.  Filled with medieval concepts that may be alien to our modern ears but resonates in our times, “The Riverwoman’s Dragon” is a welcome addition to the series.
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A time where woman’s skills were not respected. Belief’s in witchcraft was rife. The power of whispers and malicious gossip brought out the mob for death.
Against this background in medieval York what chance did Kingsman Owen Archer have to keep the peace and uncover murder. He must protect Magda Digby the Riverwoman who has some of the answers he seeks. A well paced book delving into the pestilence of the time and how no one is safe. There are many twists to the story but well worth keeping with to the end.
I was given an arc of this book by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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I first discovered the world of Owen Archer when I read the 11th book in the series, A Conspiracy of Wolves, and I was hooked. The author has a knack for writing brilliantly immersive historical fiction. As with her previous books, the dialogue, the setting, the descriptions – it all feels very realistic and seamlessly transports the reader into the past. Once again, Robb makes 14th century York come alive.

Don’t get me wrong, the story isn’t bogged down with lots of descriptions or explanations – it’s a perfect balance of giving you enough information to imagine everything in your mind, but not too much that you feel like you’re taking a history lesson. The pacing is quick and gripping and I never wanted the story to end.

Magda Digby has been a minor character through most of the series, and I really liked getting to know more about her. I have always found her a wise and interesting character and learning more about her background in this story, which makes her a main character, was a nice surprise. I think that a long-running series needs ways to keep the books interesting and putting the spotlight on a supporting character that has been around for so long was a great move.

And while The Riverwoman’s Dragon can definitely be read on its own, there are a lot of relationships and characters that have been built up slowly during the past 12 books, so it’s a much richer and rewarding story when you have read the series from the start. Even if you do start the Owen Archer series with this book, I highly recommend you go back and check out Book 1, The Apothecary Rose.

Like many of Robb’s books, The Riverwoman’s Dragon is not a straightforward story. There are A LOT of twists and turns, red herrings and suspicious characters. I love that I always have a hard time figuring out who the eventual villain is whenever I read this series and I was not disappointed with the eventual solution.

*** Thank you to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and the publisher, Severn House, for providing me with an e-copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
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A terrific read for fans of historical fiction!  I've only read a couple of the books in this long running series but that wasn't a problem.  What was a little tough, I'll admit, is coping with the intricacies of 1375 York- not the bits and pieces of daily life but the politics.  These however make the mystery all the better, Magda is a midwife who comes under attack at a time when the plague is running wild,  Then there''s a murder.  Owen Archer solves the crime in a way that might surprise you.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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Magda Digby lives on an island in the middle of Ouse River outside York. She is a woman who knows the plants that can heal and the plants that can kill. She knows everything there is to know about what makes people tick. She lives in an overturned boat with a dragon head prow and the dragon protects her from people who wish to harm her. Her daughter, Asa, shows up, along with Einar, another relative. They have come to York seeking a man who describes himself as a physician, but is, in reality, a charlatan. He has escaped from London, stealing his master's tools. The plague, or manqualm, has come to York; it is summer and people are dying, but the priests have told the people they cannot trust the wise women who previously saved them. Gulthlac Woolcott is dying, but Owen Archer suspects his son, Gavin, is helping his death along. There are many questions floating around York in the hot summer. Another great entry in this long-running series, filled with excellent historical detail.
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Thanks to NetGalley for a digital ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review. Finally! 14 books in and we get a wonderful novel featuring Magda. I really, REALLY enjoyed this book. Delving more into Magda's past, into the history surrounding fears of the plague and healers, and of course, a juicy mystery to solve. Robb is just superb at crafting and weaving an intricate novel, and this one did NOT disappoint. I love when I can't figure out the "whodunit" until it's revealed by the mystery-solver. Robb wove a very intricate web of mystery, history, magic (??), illness, faith and intrigue with this installment. I loved every bit of it!
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1375 York Owen Archer finally returms to York to find that the plague is approaching the city. Matters are made worse with rumours denouncing women healers including Magda Rigby. Is her life in danger, but if so from whom, her family that have appeared, or Bernard supposedly a physician. Then murder occurs. Owen Archer needs to find the motive and so then the guilty party.
Another entertaining and well-written historical mystery with its cast of varied and likeable characters. A story where we learn more about Magda. Another good addition to the series
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you to Netgalley and Severn House publishing for this eARC!

Candace Robb delivers a master class in historical mystery writing in this 13th and what may be my favorite Owen Archer book. This features Magda Digby in a prominent role surrounded by a not very welcome family reunion, death, intrigue, the plague, and all mired in the beginning of the period when men were wrestling the practice of medicine away from women. This story had more twists and turns, suspicious characters and red herrings than I could count. Magda finds a dead body and it's up to Owen to prove her innocence. 

This is definitely for fans of the Owen Archer series. The pacing is perfect and the history just spot on. Magda Digby's elevation to major character makes this a much anticipated occurrence. This is not a quick summer beach read. There are multiple plots and many characters to sort through. This one kept me up reading into the wee hours. I just loved this!
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Owen Archer and his wife have returned to York from the Royal Court in London , to a city in turmoil .......... the plague has returned and is spreading fast .
With the arrival in the city of a new Physician , Magda, the local Riverwoman and Healer's position has become precarious ....... for he is spreading stories , accusing not just Magda , but also the local midwives and Owen's apothecary wife of heresy .
But he is not the only new arrival in the city , Magda's estranged daughter and grandson have also appeared - just what do they want ? it cannot be anything good .
When Magda is accused of the murder of a local man who had recently visited her and with the Physician inflaming the local public against her , Owen must use all his wits to solve the crimes ........... all the while the plague spreads closer and closer .

The Author is a master at bringing the times , sights and sounds of the era to life with great characters that you can relate to ..... a thoroughly enjoyable book .

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own
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I haven't read every book in this series but I have still found I can follow the characters' development regardless, though many people will prefer to read them in order. 
This is a series for people who love historical fiction in the vein of Ellis Peters Cadfael books.
I sometimes find these later books can be a little drawn out and not as concise as the first few,but a good read nonetheless.
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Candace Robb's Owen Archer series, set in 14th Century York, offers reliably enjoyable tales. The characters have developed in interesting ways as the series has progressed, sometimes with surprising changes. Archer—a former archer who had to lbuild a new life after he was blinded in one eye—is the kind of ordinary, yet heroic character that populates historical mysteries. He's a man of his time who nonetheless embraces values that were probably not all that common in the Medieval Era: independence for women, a refusal to accept wealth equating power, and a lack of either superstition or hyperreligiosity.

The Riverwoman's Dragon is the 13th volume in the series and features Magda, an elderly healer, who has been a recurring, but only occasionally crucial character in the series. She lives in cottage made of an overturned boat on a rock in the middle of a river. The dragon of the title is that ship's figurehead and is a living creature in Magda's world. When a new doctor arrives in York and begins berating wise women and midwives, just as a new round of plague is starting, Magda and other women like her, along with the poor in general, are seen as threats to the health of the community, suffering physical attacks and having their homes set on fire.

Archer, of course, straightens everything out with the help of a range of characters from the community, but it's the time spent with Magda that is most engaging. I would suggest reading one or two other volumes in this series before reading the River Woman's Dragon, in order to familiarize one's self with the wide cast of characters, particularly Magda and the way she's perceived by others.

This is a reliable series for readers of historical mysteries who enjoy character-centered plotting and generally happy endings. I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.
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Candace Robb's historical mysteries are some of the best available.  She did her PhD (ABD) studies in Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature and has continued her research anew with each of her books. 

The Owen Archer series is set in the late 1300's, a period that has long interested me.  When I read The Apothecary Rose, the first in this series in 2015, I was captivated by the fictional characters, plot, and the intertwining with the historical characters from the time:  Henry of Lancaster, John Thoresby-Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, and John of Gaunt.  Each book expanded on the genuine history of the time and the historical figures who influenced that history.

Robb's Author Notes are a wonderful addition to each book.  Using actual events, people, and customs, she doesn't load the plot with overly detailed explanations, but does include the information if you are more interested.   I always am.

The Riverwoman's Dragon is the 13th in the series and takes place in 1375 as an outbreak of the plague has the population of York in fear.  

from description:  "May, 1375. Owen Archer returns from London to find York in chaos. While the citizens are living in terror of the pestilence which is spreading throughout the land, a new physician has arrived, whipping up fear and suspicion against traditional healers and midwives." 

 Magda has been a blessing as a wise woman and healer--treating the ailments of York for years, delivering babies, using herbs to treat illnesses, and working with Lucie, Owen Archer's wife and local apothecary.  But Magda is a pagan, not a Christian.  With fear flamed by the plague and a man claiming to be a doctor, many of York can be persuaded to turn against her.  

When Magda is accused of murder, Own must find a way to protect her and find the villain.

There are several interesting threads in this installment, and we learn a little more about Magda's background.  

Another excellent addition to Candace Robb's Owen Archer series.  Start with the first book, and maybe, like me, you will keep wanting more.  

read in August; review scheduled for Oct. 3.
NetGalley/Canongate Books/Severn House

Historical Mystery.  Nov. 2, 2021.  Print length:  256 pages
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