The Girl Who Never Was (Otherworld Series #1)

The Girl Who Never Was (Otherworld Series #1)

4.3 14
by Skylar Dorset

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"Romantic, suspenseful, and witty all at once—Alice in Wonderland meets Neverwhere."—Claudia Gray, New York Times bestselling author of the Evernight series

"Today is my birthday."

In Selkie's family, you don't celebrate birthdays. You don't talk about birthdays. And you never, ever reveal your birth date."

Until now.

The instant

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"Romantic, suspenseful, and witty all at once—Alice in Wonderland meets Neverwhere."—Claudia Gray, New York Times bestselling author of the Evernight series

"Today is my birthday."

In Selkie's family, you don't celebrate birthdays. You don't talk about birthdays. And you never, ever reveal your birth date."

Until now.

The instant Selkie blurts out the truth to Ben in the middle of Boston Common, her whole world shatters.

Because her life has been nothing but a lie—an elaborate enchantment meant to conceal the truth: Selkie is a half-faerie princess.

And her mother wants her dead.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Dorset's debut follows 17-year-old Selkie Stewart as her life is turned upside down by the revelation that her mother is an evil faerie. A complex group of prophecies predicts that Selkie will bring down the rule of the powerful Seelie court, where the elite forget anything unpleasant while using the power of faerie names to destroy the weak. Dorset is at her best constructing a beautiful and ruthless world where "ugliness is ferreted out and destroyed." Selkie's potential makes her a target for the Seelies, but when her lifelong protector, Ben, is captured, she is honor-bound to infiltrate the court to rescue him, facing down the mother she's never met. Dorset's story doesn't quite set itself apart in the urban fantasy genre—the plot, in which a faerie who has grown up believing herself human involves herself in a plot against the Seelie Court, closely echoes that of Holly Black's groundbreaking Tithe. But Ben and Selkie's riveting adventures and touching mutual loyalty, along with a strong cast and central romance, keep this series opener engaging. Ages 12–up. Agent: Andrea Somberg, Harvey Klinger Inc. (June)
From the Publisher
"The fantasy adventure intensifies, culminating with a satisfying conclusion...This book would appeal to readers who enjoy the fantasy of a faerie world." - VOYA Magazine

"THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS is a promising first book in a fantasy series with relatable, modern characters and exciting, action-packed chapters." - TeenReads

"Skylar Dorset's debut novel is an astoundingly well-done urban fantasy in the style of Neverworld and Daughter of Smoke & Bone. If you're looking to get swept up in a world-spanning fantasy adventure, check out the Otherworld series!" - YA Books Central

"This action-packed story is rich in snappy dialogue and descriptions of Boston" - School Library Journal

"Trading in a lavishly described Boston for a Carrollian Otherworld... Dorset excels in physical descriptions." " - Kirkus

"Ben and Selkie's riveting adventures and touching mutual loyalty, along with a strong cast and central romance, keep this series opener engaging." - Publishers Weekly

"[A] suspenseful fantasy " - Girls' Life

"THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS is a promising first book in a fantasy series with relatable, modern characters and exciting, action-packed chapters." - Teen Reads

VOYA, October 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 4) - Lizzie Ruetschle
The Girl Who Never Was starts out very slowly, introducing terminology and not much of a plot, but it quickly makes up for it. Readers will eventually be sucked in and will not be able to put it down. The sequel should be a best seller. The storyline would be a hit for readers who like to be drawn into an old fairy tale setting. This fantasy book is excellent for teen readers. Reviewer: Lizzie Ruetschle, Teen Reviewer; Ages 15 to 18.
VOYA, October 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 4) - Pat Clingman
Selkie Stewart lives on Beacon Street in Boston with her odd aunts, Virtue and True. Selkie’s best friend is Kelsey, and Selkie is attracted to Ben, a vendor who works a stand on Boston Commons. Selkie’s father is currently living in an insane asylum and she wants to find out more information about her mother, whom she has never met. When she turns seventeen, she tells Ben that it is her birthday, which begins a series of strange events. When she visits Salem, she meets an antique book store owner named Will who seems to point her to exact passages from books that give her clues into her past. Selkie eventually discovers that she is a faerie princess—part faerie, part ogre—and that her aunts are orgres. Ben is a faerie who has been protecting her with a Boston sweatshirt he gave her that carries a protective charm. Her mother is a faerie queen from the Seelie Court who fell from the Otherworld to modern-day Boston and she wants to kill her daughter. The story starts out slowly, but if the reader stays with the story past the first chapter, the fantasy adventure intensifies, culminating with a satisfying conclusion that indicates a sequel is likely. This is Dorset’s debut novel and the first in a series. This book would appeal to readers who enjoy the fantasy of a faerie world. Reviewer: Pat Clingman; Ages 15 to 18.
VOYA, October 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 4) - Katarina Dranchak
The Girl Who Never Was is about Selkie Stewart, who is not allowed to tell anyone how old she is. In the beginning, she disobeys her aunts who take care of her, and tells a boy named Ben that it is her birthday. After this, the book tells the story of the consequences of Selkie’s decision. Overall, the story is confusing and non-descriptive. It would have been more intriguing if the author had included more details and explanations. Reviewer: Katarina Dranchak, Teen Reviewer; Ages 15 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Selkie Stewart lives with her great-aunts in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. She has just turned 17 on the autumnal equinox and is determined to find the birth mother who dropped her off on her father's doorstep when she was an infant. Selkie learns that she was born because her father saved her mother's life and asked for a child in return. She then discovers that her great-aunts and her father are ogres. Selkie's mother is a faerie queen who rules Otherworld at Seelie Court, and ruthlessly kills nonfaeries. Selkie has been protected by Ben, who appears to be a merchant on Boston Common but is actually a faerie who has created an enchantment for her and takes her traveling across time, space, and realms; she is in love with him. One of four faeries born on the seasonal equinox who are prophesied to take power away from Seelie Court and bring peace to the Otherworld, Selkie is in great danger; her faerie queen mother is determined to kill her. The protagonist takes many risks to become acquainted with her mother, and bravely overcomes evil enchantments, growing in confidence throughout the story. She lives dual roles as a changeling and a public high school student. This action-packed story is rich in snappy dialogue and descriptions of Boston. An additional purchase for middle school collections.—Laura Scott, Farmington Community Library, MI
Kirkus Reviews
On her 17th birthday, Selkie Stewart learns of her magical heritage, parentage and destiny.Raised by her great-aunts to be anti-social and secretive, Selkie blurts out her birthdate to her crush, Ben, accidentally unraveling her enchanted and illusory life. She discovers not only that she is half-faerie (and half-ogre) and that Boston was built and is inhabited by other supernatural creatures, but also that she is one of four fay prophesied to overthrow the Seelie Court...and that her mother, the queen, wants to kill her. Trading in a lavishly described Boston for a Carrollian Otherworld, Selkie risks murderous parental wrath to save her sort-of boyfriend, armed only with her newfound powers. Selkie's relationship with Ben feels both artificial and shallow—as do all her interactions with other characters—and their romance swings from PG cuddling to vows of eternal love. Selkie is an unreliable, if poetic, narrator, first dazed by the enchantments and then disoriented by the bizarre faerie court, but she also wavers between childish frustration and adult astuteness in dialogue and behavior. Dorset excels in physical descriptions but falters with an arbitrary adventure and a clichéd faerie self-discovery/romance/prophecy plot.A decent but unremarkable addition to the flock of teen faerie tales. (Fantasy. 12-18)

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Product Details

Publication date:
Skylar Dorset's Otherworld Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
740L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

One day, my father walked into his Back Bay apartment to find a blond woman asleep on his couch. Nine months later, I appeared on his doorstep. One year later, my aunts succeeded in getting him committed to a psychiatric hospital.

This is how the story of my birth goes.

My father says my mother was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. I always ask how she ended up on his couch. Where did she come from? I ask. Why was she there? Did you know her? My father always looks at me vaguely. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen, he tells me, and then he tells me the story of my name. Selkie, he says. She told me to name you Selkie. And I ask, How did she tell you? And he replies, She etched it into a snowflake, sighed it into a gust of wind, rustled it through the trees of autumn, rippled it over a summer pond.

And my aunts sigh and say, That's enough.

And when I ask my aunts about my mother, all they will ever say is that she was "flighty."

When I was little, I used to think maybe my mother would come to take me away. Aunt True and Aunt Virtue aren't exactly my aunts. They are my dad's aunts, making them my great-aunts, and therefore old-older than I could pinpoint when I was young. Now that I'm older, I know that they're older than my dad, but I can't quite figure out exactly how much older. Dad was their little brother's only child, I know, but the dates of births in my family are fuzzy. Who wants to remember how old they are? Aunt True asks me. I have never had a birthday party. Or an acknowledgment of my birthday. But I do have a birthday.

It is today.

I am sitting on Boston Common, watching the tourists get lost and the leaves fall, and I am thinking. The Common is the huge park in the middle of Boston. The story I have always been told is that it was originally a cow pasture and that the paved paths meandering through it follow the original cow paths, and I believe that; there is an aimlessness to them. I like that about Boston Common. I like that the place feels like it has no discernible purpose, in this age without cows. It is unnecessary, a frivolity in the middle of the city, prime real estate that isn't even landscaped, really, is just basic grass and some scattered trees. It is a place that just is, and I have always found, sprawled on the ground and looking at the buildings that crowd around it, that it is the perfect place to think.

I am, according to my birth certificate, seventeen today. I don't know whether or not to believe my birth certificate, though, honestly. Some days I feel that I must be much older than seventeen and that somebody got it all wrong: my addle-minded father or my aunts who don't keep track of dates. And some days I feel much younger than seventeen, like a small child, and I just want my mother.

I feel that way now.

I am thinking of my mother, of how I am told I resemble her. I have never seen her photograph, so all I can do is study myself in the mirror and draw conclusions from there. Tall, I suppose, the way I am tall. Slender the way I am slender. It must be from her that I get my pale skin that resists all of my efforts to get it to tan, since my aunts and father have naturally olive complexions. It must be from her that I get my blue eyes, my blond hair so light that it can be white in certain lights. I wear my hair long, and I wonder if my mother did-if she does still, wherever she is.

"Hey," says Ben, interrupting my thoughts. Ben works at one of the stands scattered through the Common. On hot summer days, Ben makes fresh-squeezed lemonade that he gives me for free. He brings it to me while I lie on the grass in the heat and read books and tell him what they're about. Now, at the time of year when it can be summer or winter both in the same day, Ben makes lemonade or sells sweatshirts, as the mood strikes him. It must be sweatshirts today, because he's brought me one, and he drops it playfully on top of my head, draped so that it momentarily obscures my vision.

I feel like I have known Ben all my life, but that's not true. I just can't remember the first time I met him is the problem. I have always come to the Common to be alone, alone among the strangers, and Ben has always been in the background of life on the Common. I don't know when we started speaking to each other, when he started bringing me lemonade, when we learned each other's names. It all just happened, the way good things just happen without having to be forced. Ben is-I think-older than me in a way that always makes me feel very young, but I don't think he does it on purpose, the way the college guys do when we cross paths on the T, Boston's sprawling and ever-crowded subway system. Ben is effortlessly older than me. He is tall-taller than me-and thin-maybe thinner than me too, honestly-and has a lot of thick, dark, curly hair and very pale eyes whose color I can never quite pinpoint, and for a little while now, I have been ignoring the attention of Mike Summerton at school because there is Ben. But I don't think Ben is thinking that way, and what's really kind of annoying is that, in a relationship where I don't ever remember even having to tell Ben my name, why should I have to tell him that we're kind of dating, even if he doesn't know it and has never kissed me? He should just know, the way he knew I'd like lemonade and that I was cold and needed a sweatshirt.

"What are you up to?" he asks me, dropping to the leaf-strewn grass next to me. Ben moves with an absentminded elegance. When he drops to the ground, it almost feels like he floats his way down. It sounds weird, but it's the only way I can think to describe it: a soft, fluttering quality to the way Ben moves. It is, trust me, very appealing. Ben never clumsily plops to the ground beside me. Ben always sort of sinks there. And you get the feeling, watching Ben move, that everything he does is very deliberate, no motion wasted. It makes it terribly flattering when he uses those deliberate, studied motions to come talk to you-terribly flattering and the slightest bit annoying. I am not known for my grace. Not that I'm the clumsiest person ever, but let's just say I know I'm never going to be a ballerina. My aunts say that I move with "Stewart stubbornness," trying to refuse to yield to hard objects or even gravity at times-that that is one thing, at least, that I did not inherit from my mother. I guess I have to take their word for it. In my head, whenever I imagine her, my "flighty" mother moves so fluidly she could be floating.

"It's wet," Ben says of the grass, and he crinkles his nose in displeasure, shaking his hands like a fastidious cat and all of his motions are so beautifully choreographed that he is painful to look at.

"Yeah," I reply, as if Ben is not painful for me to look at and is just a regular friend, hanging out on the Common with me.

Ben shrugs and takes the sweatshirt out of my hands.

"Hey," I protest as he puts it on the ground and sits on it. "I was going to wear that."

"You know I hate to be wet," he says. And he does. I do know this. He wraps the cups of lemonade he sells in thickets of napkins to keep condensation away from his hands. He complains vociferously whenever it rains. He has sixteen different ways of fending off dampness. I always ask him why he lives in Boston and sells things outside if he hates the rain so much; it rains here a lot. And Ben always shrugs. Ben shrugs in response to lots of things. Like whenever I ask him why he doesn't go to school. He is-I think-too old for high school, although he never confirms this. But why not college then? One of the two hundred colleges in the Boston area?

And Ben shrugs.

"Today is my birthday," I blurt out. I don't know why I say it just then. I never tell anyone my birthday. I expect Aunt True and Aunt Virtue to come running out of the townhouse to scold me about how polite people never reveal such personal information.

But nobody comes dashing across Beacon Street. The piano player outside the entrance to the T plays something tinkling and tuneless. Ben says, "Happy birthday." He does not ask me how old I am. I am glad for that. It seems weird to say that I'm seventeen when I feel so much younger than that. Then he says, "It's the autumnal equinox. You were born on the autumnal equinox."

"Not really. Well, I don't know. The autumnal equinox is different every year."

Ben shrugs.

I want to tell him that I would like to find my mother.

I don't.


Kelsey is my best friend. She has never been inside my house though. I don't allow anybody inside my house. The air in that house shouldn't be disturbed by outside people. Aunt True and Aunt Virtue wouldn't even know how to address a new person. They have been talking to the same people for centuries it feels like. "A proper Bostonian never talks to strangers," they tell me, and their definition of stranger means "every person on the planet except the four people we know." Life on Beacon Hill, for a certain type of Bostonian, has not changed in hundreds of years. Sometimes I think it will never change.

But I think maybe change is right around the corner. I feel like even the air I'm breathing feels lighter.

Kelsey is waiting for me on the sidewalk, and I jump over the last two front steps to meet her. This is not really like me, and she lifts her eyebrows.

"I have a good feeling," I tell her.

She smiles. "Good. Me too." Kelsey always has a good feeling when we are about to go on what she considers to be an adventure. Kelsey likes adventures. She would have started looking for her mother ages ago had she been in my position. She adjusts the bag slung over her shoulder and tips her chin in the direction of the Common. "Let's go," she says.

My house sits right on Beacon Street, on the very outer edge of the higgledy-piggledy, charm-personified area of Boston known as Beacon Hill, a place whose very streets were literally designed to try to keep the less desirable element out, set out in a rabbit warren that only those with the right breeding were supposed to know how to navigate. It seems strange to me, quaint, an entire neighborhood built so defensively, as if preparing for an invasion from the rest of the city. Beacon Hill is full of ancient brick townhouses that all hug each other, tipping drunkenly against each other on the unsteady land of a hill that was halved in height at one point so that its dirt could form the rest of the city. My house is no different, with unnecessarily large doors and dramatic, curved walls. Like the very poshest of the Beacon Hill houses, some of the windowpanes are the distinctive lavender that dates back centuries, to a defective shipment of glass once unknowingly used in Boston Brahmin Beacon Hill homes. The panes, months after installation, revealed a tendency to turn lavender in the sun and became the best sort of accidental status symbol. For a little while, there were imitation lavender panes all over Boston, none ever quite managing to duplicate the particular Beacon Hill shade. The fad for imitation eventually fell out of fashion. Now only a few of the originals remain, and tourists walk up and down the busy and chaotic thoroughfare of Beacon Street, almost getting hit by cars as they dart into traffic to get a better angle on our front windows. I feel sometimes like I live in a museum from the number of people constantly loitering around my front stoop.

We glance left and right before crossing Beacon Street, but without much interest: Boston pedestrians walk protected by the confidence that motorists would rather stop than face the lawsuit if they killed you. Once across the two lanes of traffic, we are directly on the Common. It is no surprise I considered it my front yard when I was growing up and no surprise that we have no outdoor area to our home. Why would you need one with so many empty acres right in front of you, kindly maintained by the city? My aunts have beautiful window boxes-another Beacon Hill necessity-but that is their only concession to nature. And they don't even take care of them, hiring out their care to gardeners. "Our kind does not garden," my aunts always say, ever the proper Bostonians.

Kelsey and I walk through the Common to the T station. It's windy, as usual, and Kelsey's hair is whipping in front of her face.

She sighs, pushing hair out of her mouth. "I should have thought to bring an elastic."

"Oh," I say and pull a rubber band out of my pocket and hand it to her.

"How clean is it?" she asks dubiously.

"I found it in with my aunts' yarn the other day," I assure her.

"I don't know what I would do without you," remarks Kelsey. "It's like having my own personal genie. If I didn't have you, I'd have to, like, remember things on my own."

I don't bother to say anything. I can't help the habit I have of pocketing random things, and lots of times it comes in handy, like now.

Kelsey takes the rubber band and pulls her blond hair briskly back into a ponytail.

I look around for Ben, but I don't see him. I almost never see Ben when I'm not alone. Sometimes I wonder if he hides from me. Sometimes I wonder if he's a figment of my imagination. I've never told anyone about Ben, not even Kelsey. It's weird. For all I consider Kelsey my best friend, there's so much about my life I feel I can't tell her-can't tell anyone. My antiquated aunts in their time-frozen home seem too rarefied to be discussed with Kelsey, who exists for me in such a normal world. These are the worlds I straddle-home and high school-and it's hard for me to get the two to intersect. Football games and study hall and prom-I can't fit them into the other pieces of my life. And Ben exists in still another world, a world all his own for me, neither school nor home but a special slice of life. I could tell Kelsey about him, but somehow I feel like he would be less mine then. Which is both silly and selfish, but I can't help it. I have never told Kelsey about Ben, and I don't mention him now.

We get to the Park Street subway station. The T worker keeping guard at the turnstile frowns at us, so I make sure to make a big show of swiping my card. The T is always freaking out about non-paying riders. Sometimes they're so strident, you'd think they were fighting a war or something.

"And they'll just let you look up information about your mother?" Kelsey asks me as we head toward the Red Line platform. The Red Line will take us into Dorchester, where the Registry of Vital Records is, the object of our mission today. I am determined to learn everything I can about my mother. I've asked Kelsey along because I don't want to be alone, and Kelsey is always game for an outing.

Someone steps in front of me, and I have to concentrate on darting around them. This is always happening at Park Street. There are always too many tourists around, all of them lost, all of them wandering around so confusingly aimlessly that they seem to pop up out of nowhere. Walking through Park Street station requires as much concentration as driving a car.

"Well," I reply, having completed my darting maneuver. "They're public records. Why shouldn't I be allowed to see them?"

"I don't know," she says. "If it was this easy, why didn't you ever do it before?"

Frankly, sometimes even I can barely understand my motives for the things I do. This used to frighten my aunts. I learned to cover whenever I found myself doing something inexplicable, like dancing to nonexistent music in my room or trying to read the language of dust motes. This is probably why I haven't mentioned to them my latest determination to find my mother. Well, that and the fact that my aunts obviously didn't like my mother.

To Kelsey I say, "I don't know. I'm seventeen now. I guess it's time."

"Seventeen?" exclaims Kelsey in delight. "Did you have a birthday? You should have told me! We could have celebrated!"

I take the Ben route and shrug.

Kelsey is silent a moment before saying, "But...why seventeen? What's the big deal about seventeen? Sixteen I could see, or eighteen. But seventeen's just...seventeen. Nothing big, nothing exciting. Just an in-between age."

I don't know what to say to that. Seventeen seems like a huge deal to me.

The Red Line gets stalled underground for a bit, which is not at all an unusual occurrence, but we eventually reach Dorchester. Dorchester is a decidedly different part of Boston than where I live. Everything about Boston can seem vaguely faded-it is a very old city by American standards-but Beacon Hill is so faded that it has come full circle to being fashionable again. There was a time period when modernizing Bostonians wanted to tear down Beacon Hill, all the lovely old homes with their lavender windowpanes, in favor of a new residential area with all the conveniences, like places for automobiles and electrical systems that weren't fire hazards. The less-modernizing Bostonians, Bostonians like my aunts, resisted the entire idea, and Beacon Hill survived its shabbiest era more or less intact, the same as it had been for ages, only the barest concessions to the passage of time, to emerge today as the type of place that gets thrown onto postcards.

Dorchester is at the point in time when modernizing Bostonians wish to tear it down and start from scratch, and Dorchester doesn't have proper Bostonian inhabitants to insist upon its unchanging preservation, so some of that has happened. In among the older, rundown buildings are gleaming new ones, like the Registry of Vital Records. I don't like new buildings in Boston; they make you wince, like hearing a sour note in a song. The streets are also wide enough that cars easily fit down them, and you could be anywhere in America with streets like that. I don't feel at home here. I may be only seventeen-already seventeen?-but I'm most at home in the places where seventeen-year-olds were at home, like, two centuries ago.

The accents are at least comfortingly Boston, as proven by the woman at the front desk.

"I'm looking for information about my mother," I tell her, pushing across my identification.

The woman smiles at me kindly. "Okay. And what was her name?"

"Faye Blaxton," I say and spell the name for her. I know that much from my birth certificate.

The woman types into her computer. Then she looks back at me. "Was she born in Massachusetts?" she asks me.

"I don't know," I admit. "Maybe not."

The woman does some more typing-and then frowns a bit. "I can't find anyone by that name. At least, not in the right time period to be your mother. You're sure it's the correct name? And the correct spelling?"

I'm sure. But, just in case, I have her look up my birth certificate, and there is my mother's name on it, plain as day. Faye Blaxton.

"It could be a glitch in the system," says the nice woman at the desk. "A typo maybe. Or something."

"Yeah," I agree glumly. I don't want to sound glum. I want to sound like it's no big deal that I can't find my mother. I've done okay without her so far, haven't I? But I'd thought, well, that it'd be simple. Oh, Faye Blaxton, she lives out in Malden. And then, maybe, I would know that she'd never bothered to check in on her daughter, but I would also know that she existed.

"It's a dead end, maybe," says Kelsey when we leave, "but there are other avenues to explore!" Kelsey is all big-picture enthusiasm, which I know is for my benefit. "What do you know about your mother?"

One day my father walked into his Back Bay apartment to find a blond woman asleep on his couch. I can't say that. "Not much," I say. And then, truthfully, after a pause, "My aunts say she was flighty." I know my aunts mean it as a negative, but when I was little, I always had the impression that it meant my mother could fly, that she had deposited me on that Back Bay doorstep and then soared into the never-ending sky.

"Your aunts knew her, then," says Kelsey.

"No," I reply. "Not really. Well, I don't know, actually. I think to them she's just a woman who left her baby on a doorstep."

"Wait, she really did that?" Kelsey asks.

I look at her in confusion because I've told her at least this much about myself, my family, my past. "Yeah."

"I thought you meant that figuratively. Like, that you just meant your mom gave you up or something. She literally left you on a doorstep?"

I nod. With a note. A note etched into a snowflake, sighed into a gust of wind, rustled through the trees of autumn, rippled over a summer pond.

"Well," says Kelsey. And then she doesn't say anything else.

We get on the T. This time there are no delays, but I feel like people watch me the whole way, like it must be common knowledge, written all over me: I am the girl who has no mother.

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