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Genre: Historical Romance (18th Century – 1743)

Cover Blurb:

Jacobite Intrigue and Romance in 18th Century Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, Yuletide 1743, and Redcoat officer Robert Catto would rather be anywhere else on earth than Scotland. Seconded back from the wars in Europe to captain the city’s Town Guard, he fears his covert mission to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat will force him to confront the past he tries so hard to forget.

Christian Rankeillor, her surgeon-apothecary father and his apprentice Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon are committed supporters of the Stuart Cause. They’re hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, a hanging offence.

Meeting as enemies, Robert and Kirsty are thrown together as allies by the mysterious death of a young prostitute and their desire to help fugitive brother and sister Geordie and Alice Smart. They’re on the run from Cosmo Liddell, bored and brutal aristocrat and coal owner.

As they pick their way through a labyrinth of intrigue, Robert and Kirsty are increasingly drawn to each other. She knows their mutual attraction can go nowhere. He know his duty demands that he must betray her.

Bringing to life a time when Scotland stood at a crossroads in her history, Gathering Storm is the first in a suite of Jacobite novels by Scottish writer Maggie Craig, author of the ground-breaking and acclaimed Damn’ Rebel Bitches: The Women of the ’45.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this magnificent, fast paced, brilliantly researched novel of 18th century Edinburgh. Full of political intrigue, conspiracy, deception, murder and even secret dissections, it’s darkly creepy and fascinating but with a touch of spine tingling romance.

This is a story about people believing themselves to be in the right of it; the Jacobites determined to win independence for Scotland, no matter the cost, committed supporters of the Stuart cause and their opponents, the soldiers and politicians of the English crown, equally resolute and tenacious.

Ms.Craig begins with a bang. I could hear the click of boots on the cobbled streets as the soldiers march through the echoey, empty, dank and dark roadway.

“Robert Catto swept out through the Bristol Port and wheeled left. Adjusting his steadying grip on the hilt of his sword, he proceeded to cover the newly-cobbled causeway behind Edinburgh University at a fast and loping stride.”…and…”Bringing his right hand up to the side of his head, he splayed his long fingers so everyone would be sure of seeing the signal to stop. As he came to a graceful halt, spinning round on the balls of his feet to face the men, the soft folds of his cloak billowed out around him.”

These opening sentences completely set the scene for what is to follow. Redcoat officer, Captain Robert Catto of the despised Town Guard, is on a mission. He has been summoned from front line duty in Europe and promoted to Captain by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President. Culloden is a humane and honourable man whose only agenda is the peace and prosperity of his beloved Scotland. He has seconded Robert Catto to carry out a covert mission – to assess the strength of the Jacobite threat under the auspices of Captain of the Town Guard.

Much of the intrigue is centred around Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary where Christian (Kirsty) Rankeillor lives and works with her father, a much respected Professor, surgeon and apothecary. They are Jacobite sympathisers along with Professor Rankeillor’s apprentice, Jamie Buchan of Balnamoon. Robert Catto is aware that unlawful dissections are taking place in the dead of night in the Infirmary. He uses this knowledge as a cover to enter and search the premises, frightening the women of the Rankeillor household in the process. Finding evidence of a clandestine meeting, Robert suspects Christian and her father of hiding a Jacobite agent with a price on his head, and is duty bound to root out this traitor to the crown.

The story proceeds with Robert and Kirsty aware of a growing and unwanted attraction between them but on opposing sides, each determined to succeed; Kirsty to help the agent to escape and Robert to stop this happening at all costs. I love Robert’s character…honourable and charismatic, but entirely human, no chocolate box hero. Kirsty is a feisty, loyal and beautiful young woman but unusual in that she has been treated as an equal by her father and is not afraid of the dead or the dissecting of them for medical science. Their growing love for each other is apparent, but does not overshadow the serious subject, that of Scotland at a crossroads in her history – a time for action, one side wishing to throw her into civil war, the other to avoid this if at all possible.

There are many twists and turns with the death of a young prostitute, bestial behaviour by some of Edinburgh’s young and wealthy spoilt aristocrats, political intrigue and clandestine meetings. All combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable, intriguing, and fascinating story. Maggie Craig is a historian of repute as well as a talented writer and her meticulous research and love of her homeland clearly shows. I have recently completed the first two Outlander novels and it’s difficult not to compare the two writers. The fact that Gathering Storm has been written by a Scot, who knows her subject by simply living and breathing it, is obvious. Even the language used could only have been written by someone in the habit of using and hearing this vernacular every day…loved it.

I can’t wait for the next book in this series and I’m hopeful that Maggie Craig can also persuade her publisher to employ the fabulous actor, Lesley Mackie, to narrate this powerful tale as she did with her poignant and beautiful novel, One Sweet Moment. Gathering Storm with its evocative and turbulent background set in 18th century Edinburgh, would benefit from Ms Mackie’s intuitive and talented reading of it – a dream team indeed.

 

Footnote: added 8 June 2015

Having just listened to the newly released audio version read by James Bryce, I loved it all over again. In the end, it was decided that a male Scottish actor would do justice to the myriad of characters in this wonderful feast of a novel. Maggie Craig’s stunning story is vividly brought to life by this talented actor, who interprets perfectly the many nuances of the Scottish language.

I was at first unsure that Mr. Bryce could do justice to the delectable Robert Catto and, if I have a criticism, it is that James Bryce does not have a youthful enough voice for Robert Catto. Nevertheless, Maggie Craig’s story is so wonderful that I lost myself in the story and forgot all about my reservations over Bryce’s portrayal of Catto. At first, the young officer comes across as an unfeeling, cynical, sarcastic man who puts duty over all else. However, by degrees his softer side and his conscience emerge and his interaction with Kirsty Rankeillor and his wee cook boy, Geordie, shows his softer side and this is expertly captured by James Bryce.

Ms.Craig’s admiration for Duncan Forbes of Culloden is evident in her portrayal of him and James Bryce’s representation of him captures this admiration. His deep, cultured voice with its Scottish intones is immediately recognisable – without the necessity for explanation – in his clandestine dealings with Captain Catto. As for the female members of Professor Rankeillor’s household – well the housekeeper is just hilarious! Bryce brings to mind a fussy, bossy little bantam hen. The depiction of the drawling, supercilious, spoilt Cosmo Liddell, one of Edinburgh’s dissolute elite, is impressive and the members of the town guard, with their mixture of accents, from the highlands to the lowlands, young and old alike, is perfection. But one of the real highlights for me was when the Professor, in a flashback, was explaining the facts of life to an eleven-year-old, motherless Kirsty… poignantly sad but sweetly funny at the same time.

MY VERDICT: I’ve said it above, but I really cannot wait for the next book in this fascinating series. 5 mega stars! Can you tell how much I loved it?

 

REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Read November 2014

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MAIDEN LANE SERIES BOOK 4

A MASKED MAN…

Winter Makepeace lives a double life. By day he’s the stoic headmaster of a home for foundling children. But the night brings out a darker side of Winter. As the moon rises, so does the Ghost of St. Giles-protector, judge, fugitive. When the Ghost, beaten and wounded, is rescued by a beautiful aristocrat, Winter has no idea that his two worlds are about to collide.

A DANGEROUS WOMAN….

Lady Isabel Beckinhall enjoys nothing more than a challenge. Yet when she’s asked to tutor the Home’s dour manager in the ways of society-flirtation, double-entendres, and scandalous liaisons-Isabel can’t help wondering why his eyes seem so familiar-and his lips so tempting.

A PASSION NEITHER COULD DENY….

During the day Isabel and Winter engage in a battle of wills. At night their passions are revealed…. But when little girls start disappearing from St. Giles, Winter must avenge them. For that he might have to sacrifice everything-the Home, Isabel…and his life.

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I absolutely loved this book!

It was amazing to see Ms Hoyt turn the dour, surly, humourless Winter Makepeace into a take-your-breath-away hero. I was surprised to discover that he was the Ghost of St. Giles at the end of Scandalous Desires. My money had been on the elusive brother, Asa. But, as they say, never judge a book by its cover.

Winter is so refreshingly different from other heroes and that really appealed to me. I love his total dedication to rescuing and caring for those vulnerable children who are preyed upon in the dangerous streets of St. Giles. This is his life’s work and requires a hundred per cent of his time and he has forsworn a wife and family, keeping his emotional and physical needs suppressed. But when his alter-ego, the Ghost of St Giles, takes over, it’s exciting to see a very different side to him. The mask gives him anonymity and allows him to give free rein to his darker emotions. He is daring, reckless and so very sexy. I loved this passionate crusading Winter.

There are some scenes where he melted my heart with his gentleness and understanding.

Most interesting is the fact that he’s a virgin, a rare phenomenon among romance heroes. I love this aspect of him because it provides for some memorable scenes between Winter and Isabel. More about those later!

I think Winter may just have usurped Charming Mickey as my favourite hero of this series!

I did have some qualms about whether I would like Isabel. In Scandalous Desires she appeared shallow and patronising. But, as with Winter, appearances can be deceptive and Isabel proved to be a delightful heroine and just perfect for Winter.

She is charming, confident, intelligent, caring, brave and witty. I particularly liked that she is older than Winter and sexually experienced. She had taken a few lovers after her husband’s death and isn’t afraid to admit that she enjoys sex which I found refreshing. She had suffered tragedy in her life but hides the hurt and pain beneath a mask of flirtation and frivolity. Only Winter sees the vulnerable woman beneath.

For a split second he was shocked to see pain in her face. Then she smiled brilliantly as if to mask whatever emotions she might be feeling.

Watching her slowly realise how much she has come to care for her husband’s son, Christopher, was really heart-warming.

What amazing sexual tension Ms Hoyt created. Talk about steaming up my glasses! The role reversal with the younger inexperienced man and the older experienced woman worked so well. I liked that Winter wasn’t shy but totally at ease with himself while it was Isabel who was flustered by his outspokenness.

One of my favourite scenes is where Isabel is given the task of tutoring Winter in social etiquette. She has asked him to think of a suitable compliment about a lady’s appearance and, whilst looking at Isabel, he’s thinking:

I would do violence for one glimpse of your naked breasts. Bleed for one taste of your nipple on my tongue.
No, that was probably not the type of compliment she was looking for.

I loved watching Winter’s sexual awakening under Isabel’s tutelage and what woman wouldn’t want to be the focus of all that suppressed desire? The love scenes were positively smouldering, particularly the one where Winter tells Isabel:

”I am the one in charge tonight my lady. I am the one who holds the reins.”

He certainly puts all Isabel’s lessons into good practice!!!

Once again Ms Hoyt brings alive the atmosphere of St. Giles perfectly. I could sense the danger lurking in the shadows, see the squalidness, smell the filth and hear the sounds of the dregs of society.

I’m not sure about the pairing of the hero and heroine in the next book, Lord of Darkness, but I have every confidence that Ms Hoyt will pull another winner out of the bag.

FAVOURITE QUOTE

“I’ll never look at you in any way but complete admiration.” He stroked her hair soothingly. “You’ll never be a millstone about my neck. Rather you’re the sunshine that brightens my day.”

VERDICT: FABULOUS – A MUST READ!

RATING: STELLAR ★★★★★

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MAIDEN LANE SERIES BOOK 3

Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies in a woman’s heart?

Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind—and nine months ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back . . . and he’s asking for her help.

“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. And yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed . . . talking.

When his bastard baby girl was dumped in his lap—her mother having died—Mickey couldn’t resist the Machiavellian urge to leave the baby on Silence’s doorstep. The baby would be hidden from his enemies and he’d also bind Silence to him by her love for his daughter.

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Only Elizabeth Hoyt could take a ruthless river pirate, who not only steals and murders without guilt or remorse but also ruins a young woman’s life on a whim, and turn him into one of the most memorable romantic heroes ever!! Surviving a harrowing childhood, Mickey is forced to beg and steal in order to survive on the dangerous streets of St Giles until eventually he claws his way up to be the most feared river pirate on the Thames. After such a struggle, I can understand why he makes no apologies for being who he is:

Pirating was all he had to guard against starving and want. Pirating had saved him, fed him and given him a life and a future. His money was his strength.

The gentler emotions of love and compassion have no place in his life because to him they represent signs of weakness. I think it is, therefore, the allure of Silence’s purity, gentleness and deep capacity for love that draws Mickey to her because his life has been so devoid of all these things. As Mickey starts to open up to Silence, it changes everything between them because she begins to see the real man behind the flamboyant pirate.

A man moved by Silence’s tears:

He’d seen men gutted and killed, watched starving women prostitute themselves, seen beggar children lie down in the gutter and die. He’d fought with tooth and nail to reach the place where he was now – where he didn’t worry over food or a roof over his head. He’d killed men and never thought about their faces again.

Yet the sight of Silence in tears nearly unmanned him.

A man who is stirred by beautiful music:

Mick had come to the opera a little more than a year ago on a whim and had been instantly enthralled. That a man could produce such a wonderful sound almost made him believe in God.

A man who treasures a certain special book:

The one that had taught him there was beauty in the world. She’d (Silence) found Michael’s treasure, the heart he’d kept hidden.

A true romantic hero who captures your heart!

Silence definitely comes into her own in this book showing courage and strength of character in her defiance of Mickey’s absurd, autocratic commands. She also does some serious soul searching about her marriage. She has always thought she had the perfect marriage and that William truly loved her. But she comes to realise that it was all a delusion because when she truly needs him the most, he doesn’t believe her and turns away from her. She compares William’s love with the all consuming love that Lord Caire has for her sister, Temperance and knows that her husband never loved her like that. She realises that her feelings for Mickey run far deeper because, although she still feels the pain of William’s loss, it is nothing like the terrible loss she would feel if anything happened to Mickey.

Ms Hoyt does an excellent job of building up the sexual tension between Mickey and Silence and one particularly memorable scene comes to mind where Silence spies on Mickey through the connecting door to their bedrooms:

So she stayed at the crack in the door, watching breathlessly as Mickey O’Connor did something very earthy indeed.

Not difficult to guess what he was doing! As I’ve come to expect from Ms Hoyt, when Mickey and Silence finally come together, the love scenes are filled with eroticism and sensuality.

SCANDALOUS DESIRES has a fast-paced and exciting plot with some very dramatic revelations (including the identity of the Ghost of St Giles) and a really heart-stopping climax. We get to see some familiar faces including Temperance and her husband, Lord Caire, Lady Hero Reading and Silence’s brothers, Winter, Concord and the elusive Asa. I love Mickey’s two henchmen, Harry and Bert who provide some light relief and Mary Darling is simply adorable.

My Charming Mickey

My Silence

VERDICT: FABULOUS – A MUST READ!

RATING: STELLAR ★★★★★

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MAIDEN LANE SERIES BOOK 2

Their lives were perfect . . .
Lady Hero Batten, the beautiful sister of the Duke of Wakefield, has everything a woman could want, including the perfect fiancé. True, the Marquis of Mandeville is a trifle dull and has no sense of humor, but that doesn’t bother Hero. Until she meets his notorious brother . . .

Until they met each other.
Griffin Remmington, Lord Reading, is far from perfect – and he likes it that way. How he spends his days is a mystery, but all of London knows he engages in the worst sorts of drunken revelry at night. Hero takes an instant dislike to him, and Griffin thinks that Hero, with her charities and faultless manners, is much too impeccable for society, let alone his brother. Yet their near-constant battle of wits soon sparks desire – desire that causes their carefully constructed worlds to come tumbling down. As Hero’s wedding nears, and Griffin’s enemies lay plans to end their dreams forever, can two imperfect people find perfect true love?

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Absolutely loved this book and although it’s only the second book in the Maiden Lane series, I’m really hooked!

I adore Hero and Griffin and love the risque opening scene in which they meet for the first time, particularly as she has no idea who he is! I thought the part where Griffin jumps up and dives under the settee was hilarious. I kept picturing that in my mind.

They are so right together and, although very different in many ways, they share a great love of classical history. It’s a case of opposites attract and I thought Griffin’s bread and butter analogy fitted perfectly. How could Hero not fall in love with Griffin? Maybe he’s not handsome but he has a wicked sense of humour and he’s honest about himself and doesn’t pretend to be something he isn’t. But behind his roguish facade is a man who works tirelessly to provide for his family whom he cares for very much.

This is a complete contrast to his brother, Thomas, Marquess of Mandeville. He appears above reproach but secretly lusts after his former mistress, the highly unsuitable Mrs Tate. He’s neither honest with himself or Hero. Yet, when Hero tells him that she’s slept with his brother, his behaviour shows just how hypocritical he is. He never once considers that he may be wrong about Griffin seducing his first wife, Anne. To me he is totally unappealing although I did sort of understand his character a little more when he and Griffin have their heart to heart towards the end of the book. But I still think Elizabeth Hoyt was very generous in letting Thomas have a HEA.

Hero starts out as the perfect lady and, as the daughter of a Duke, she’s only too aware of her duty to make an advantageous marriage. From the time she meets Griffin, you see her struggle between duty and love. Luckily, as in all good historicals, love wins the day. It’s not an easy journey though because they have a lot heart-searching to do and there are plenty of potholes on the way, not least of all, Hero’s brother, Maximus, Duke of Wakefield.

He appears austere and totally wedded to his duty but I think that underneath that forbidding exterior he does have a heart. I feel he really cares about Hero’s feelings when he questions whether she is really happy with her engagement and gives her a chance to change her mind. I hope that Elizabeth Hoyt has a heroine waiting in the wings who will shatter his ordered world!

Elizabeth Hoyt manages to write such fabulous love scenes – erotic without being tawdry in any way. We are certainly treated to a variety in this book as Griffin demonstrates his lovemaking prowess in the bedroom….library……carriage…….etc. Definitely no complaints from Hero or this reader!

Griffin’s involvement in gin distilling doesn’t exactly endear him to Hero who has seen the evil effects of gin through her patronage of the foundling home. To make matters worse, Maximus has an almost obsessive hatred of gin distillers and is determined to see them captured and hung. His obsession has its origins in the murder of his parents in St Giles when Hero was very young. (Does anyone else wonder what his parents were doing in St Giles when they were supposed to be attending the theater? I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this mystery).

Griffin is threatened not only by the authorities but also by a rival, the Vicar of St Giles. I love a good fight especially when the hero is in grave danger. This book has a great climax with lots of action, help coming from an unexpected source and one plucky lady proving once and for all that she truly loves Griffin!

I can’t wait to read Scandalous Desires because there is a steady build up in this book in connection with Silence and Charming Mickey. It isn’t hard to guess who the presents for Mary Darling are from but more intriguing is the final gift for Silence herself.  Then there’s the fact that Charming Mickey is obviously watching Silence from a distance. It all has me very intrigued!

I like Phoebe, Hero’s sister, and Megs, Griffin’s sister, and hope they get their own books. I would really like Phoebe to have a HEA.

My Griffin Reading – Brendan Frazer

My Lady Hero Batten – Kate Winslet

Contemporary etching showing poverty in St Giles

VERDICT: THIS BOOK IS A DEFINITE KEEPER

RATING: ★★★★★

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MAIDEN LANE SERIES BOOK 1

A man controlled by his desires…

Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London’s most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows St. Giles like the back of her hand— she’s spent a lifetime caring for its inhabitants at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk.

A woman haunted by her past…

Caire makes a simple offer—in return for Temperance’s help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to London’s high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as cold calculation soon falls prey to a passion that neither can control—one that may well destroy them both.

A bargain neither could refuse

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I adore Elizabeth Hoyt’s books and WICKED INTENTIONS, with its slightly darker tone, is no exception. The first book in her ‘Maiden Lane’ series, it is a masterful blend of romance, passion and suspense, which will keep you enthralled.

One of the main reasons I love this book is my fascination with Lazarus and Temperance. They are such complex characters and I really had to delve into their psyche to understand them.

Although not fully explained in the book, I see the fact that Lazarus can’t tolerate anyone touching him as a psychological problem. I have personal experience of something similar. Until his early twenties, my son had a deep-seated fear of wearing a wristwatch but he could never explain to us why. To me, Lazarus’s loveless childhood and the guilt he feels over his sister’s death could have been the root cause of his psychological and emotional problems.

Temperance feels that her sexual desires are sinful and I think it reflects 18th century attitude to women’s sexuality, which is summed up by her husband:

He made it clear that a woman who sought sex was to be pitied.

Her feelings are only magnified by the fact that her sexual desires led her to make a terrible mistake, one which she has been trying to atone for ever since through her work at the foundling home. She manages to subdue her desires until Lazarus comes into his life. He is totally open about his sexual nature and I think Temperance gradually feels free with him to explore her desires to the full because he accepts her as she is.

I think the pace of the development of their relationship is just right and I like the small indications that reflect the relationship is evolving into something deeper, such as:

For a moment, there seemed to be a twinge in his breast, a strange wish that his life, his person, could in some way be different. That he could somehow deserve a woman such as her.

and

Something in her shifted, crumbling apart and reforming into a new and wonderful shape. She didn’t know what that shape was, but she wanted to keep it. To stay in this dim hallway and kiss Caire forever.

I love the way in which Lazarus goads Temperance with whispered salacious comments which should disgust her, but of course, have the opposite effect of arousing her. There is one particular scene where Lazarus forces her to view a couple through a peep-hole in a brothel, all the time whispering provocative words in her ear. The scene is so sexually charged that I thought the page might self-combust! The love scenes are perfectly in harmony with the mood of the story from the raw and sensual scene in the carriage to the beautiful and erotic scene where Temperance wants to show Lazarus just how much she loves him.

Ms Hoyt really excels in creating the unsavoury atmosphere of St Giles. You can almost see the swirling mist and sense the danger lurking in those dark narrow alleys. She has peopled it with larger than life characters such as Mother Heart’s–Ease, owner of the gin house, Mistress Pansy, the brothel madam, and Charming Mickey O’Connor, the feared river pirate.

There is a wonderful core of secondary characters too. Temperance’s brothers, Winter and Asa; Silence, her younger sister; Lady Hero Batten; and Lazarus’s friend, Godric St John, many of whom I am sure will have their own books in due course. In fact, the next book, ‘Notorious Pleasures’ is Lady Hero Batten’s story. I am especially intrigued by the plot line involving Silence and Charming Mickey O’Connor, and am eagerly looking forward to their story in ‘Scandalous Desires’, the third book in the series. I’m curious about the identity of the Zorro-type Ghost of St Giles? I have my suspicions but I’m sure Ms Hoyt will keep us in suspense about his identity a little longer. What better way to make sure we continue to read the series!

If you like your historical romance with a darker tone, complex characters, an intriguing plot, and steamy love scenes, then WICKED INTENTIONS should definitely find a place on your bookshelves.

VERDICT: THIS BOOK IS A DEFINITE KEEPER

RATING: ★★★★★

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