Shaman's Crossing: one (The Soldier Son Trilogy)

by Robin Hobb

Paperback, 2006



Call number




Voyager (2006), Paperback, 544 pages


Nevare Burvelle is the second son of a second son, destined from birth to carry a sword. The wealthy young noble will follow his father-newly made a lord by the King of Gernia-into the cavalry, training in the military arts at the elite King's Cavella Academy in the capital city of Old Thares. Bright and well-educated, an excellent horseman with an advantageous engagement, Nevare's future appears golden. But as his Academy instruction progresses, Nevare begins to realize that the road before him is far from straight. The old aristocracy looks down on him as the son of a "new noble" and, unprepared for the political and social maneuvering of the deeply competitive school and city, the young man finds himself entangled in a web of injustice, discrimination, and foul play. In addition, he is disquieted by his unconventional girl-cousin Epiny-who challenges his heretofore unwavering world view-and by the bizarre dreams that haunt his nights. For twenty years the King's cavalry has pushed across the grasslands, subduing and settling its nomads and claiming the territory in Gernia's name. Now they have driven as far as the Barrier Mountains, home to the Speck people, a quiet, forest-dwelling folk who retain the last vestiges of magic in a world that is rapidly becoming modernized. From childhood Nevare has been taught that the Specks are a primitive people to be pitied for their backward ways-and feared for their indigenous diseases, including the deadly Speck plague, which has ravaged the frontier towns and military outposts. The Dark Evening brings the carnival to Old Thares, and with it an unknown magic, and the first Specks Nevare has ever seen . . .… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member xicanti
I've had a difficult time gathering my thoughts on this book. I enjoyed it quite a lot but it left me unsatisfied and I've had some trouble figuring out why.

Hobb's world building is as good as always. This new place was a delight to discover. It's part Victorian England, part antebellum American
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South and part wild west, and Hobb pulls it off beautifully. I quickly became absorbed in the world, and was eager to learn more about it. I wanted to know how the place had developed and what would become of it given the recent political upheavals that drive much of the novel. I wasn't at all disappointed in that area... though I must admit that I'm always a little leery of firearms in fantasy novels, and of the whole idea of magic necessarily fading from the world to make room for "progress." The ethnocentrism bugged the hell out of me, too. I found the setting fascinating, but not entirely comfortable.

The characterization, on the other hand, just didn't click for me. I had trouble engaging with Nevare. He's so committed to his own worldview, and is completely unwilling to accept anything unusual or strange. He's incredibly ethnocentric, as are most of those who surround him. I felt for him, and even teared up a few times, but I had trouble investing much in him. I felt awkward rooting for his soldier self because of the ethnocentrism and the limited worldview, but I couldn't really root for the magical part of him because of the things it did. Hobb is among my favourite authors because she (usually) excels at creating characters who change and grow in believable ways. Nevare doesn't really grow as the book progresses. And I'll tell you, I'm gonna be hella disappointed if he doesn't start making some progress in the next book.

I also found that there was a lot of unnecessary repetition. Hobb tells us the same things over and over again. Perhaps I'd have found this helpful if I were a slower reader, or if I had trouble remembering details. As a fast reader with an excellent memory for details, I found it tiresome. There were also a fair number of typographical errors in my edition, (the UK trade paperback), including missed words and places where similar words were exchanged for one another. There were enough of them that they lifted me out of the story on a fairly regular basis.

I sound like I didn't enjoy the book. I really, really did... but it didn't entirely work for me. And, to be honest, I'm not sure whether to recommend it or not. Hobb fans seem evenly divided over whether or not they enjoy ed it. I myself am divided over whether or not I ought to have enjoyed it. I'd say, borrow it from the library or from a friend before you rush out and buy it.
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LibraryThing member gilroy
I couldn't find my way to the end of this book. I felt the urge to toss the CDs I listened to out the window of my car as I drove, but I feared that I might cut someone's tire on the unfinished script.

This entire book felt like it was someone's backstory that filled in for the actual novel to be
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written when the deadline arrived. The characters didn't draw me in, the prose felt choppy at times, and this didn't feel like the editor did more than look at the written copy, check it as existing, then send it on.

No, not a good book in the least.
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LibraryThing member noneofthis
Got a hundred pages in and gave it up for better things. The set-up this story with the conflict between the Plainspeople and the civilizing invaders and the precisely-how-human-are-they? Specks reminds me strongly of the set-up of conflicts in Robin McKinley's Damar books, albeit all in shades of
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gray, but I frankly loved the Damar books far more.

One hundred pages in, and the single thing I enjoyed was the dedication:

To Caffeine and Sugar
my companions through many a
long night of writing
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LibraryThing member tcgardner
First off, Robin Hobb is a very good writer. With that said, while I did finish the book, it left me with a sense that I did not really enjoy the book.
I think the problem was that I could just not connect with the protagonist. The poor guy seemed to have no control over his life as was just pulled
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along throughout the book. That may have been Hobb's point but it just was not enjoyable for me.

I cannot recommend except to die hard Hobb fans.
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LibraryThing member finalcut
There are some highlights in the book that suggest the world could be so much more interesting. The magic system of the plainsmen has a weakness against Iron but we don't really know what the source of the magic is (beyond a frog that can cause hallucinations). The Specks to the far west also show
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some interesting promise as does the magic of the mysterious "tree lady" that Nevare encounters in a frog induced hallucination. However, none of that is ever really developed during Shaman's Crossing. Instead Hobb keeps hinting at them with frustratingly similar passages over and over again.
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LibraryThing member surreality
Plot: Coming-of-age in an alternate universe. There are lots of little scenes and plots, but the main plot never gets going. The book serves more as a set-up for the following two volumes of the trilogy than an independent storyline.

Characters: The central figure starts out as a nine-year-old and
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ends the book as being twenty, withthe only perceivable growth being on the physical end. The side characters are off-the-rack stereotypes - the poor friend with the good heart, the physically lacking boy who makes up for it with his mind, the willful, rebelling daughter, the sunnyboy everybody flocks to, the nasty superior... There's very little originality to these figures.

Style: It's not as dense as the Farseer trilogy, and it feels as though there is no real purpose to the story. It's as if Hobb was writing for the deadline here and not for the story. There is no life in this book.

Plus: Interesting setting at the beginning of industrialization.

Minus: The writing is uninspored and drags.

Summary: Far from a must-read.
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LibraryThing member CKmtl
Shaman's Crossing, and the Soldier Son trilogy, definitely leans toward the more brooding and introverted end of the fantasy spectrum. As such, the story needs an introverted, brooding, slightly stick-in-the-mud narrator: a role which Nevare fills rather nicely.

Set in an expanding, imperialist
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Gernia, Nevare exhibits all the traits of a Good Gernian: loyalty, faith, a willingness to follow the path set for him by his birth-order, and an internalized obligation to 'westernize' the conquered savages. It is through his growth and encounters with others throughout the series that the Good Gernian will be criticized.

I find the amount of "Nevare is far too different from Fitz" criticism from some Farseer fans frankly surprising. I don't think it's an entirely fair comparison; the stories and worlds are drastically different, and therefore require different characters. Transplanting Fitz's brain and personality into a Gernian body and slapping on a vanity name-tag would have been a cheap ploy. Not to mention a disservice to readers,
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LibraryThing member littlebookworm
I didn't have high expectations when I began reading Shaman's Crossing, since I had read several negative reviews. I wasn't at all disappointed, and found myself enjoying this book a lot. I'm enjoying very much this new world of hers, and I love Hobb's characterization. I especially like how this
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book wraps up at the end, so resolved, but with little hints of what will go wrong in the next two. Robin Hobb is also an excellent writer, and I have yet to read any books of hers without getting instantly absorbed. No problems here with lack of plot, as I found it moved along fairly well even if it wasn't very eventful. Overall, a good book, and I'm sure the next two books will only improve this one.
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LibraryThing member HellCold
This is my first Robin Hobb book; I didn't read any of her Farseer or related novels. With an open mind and no prejudices, no previous experiences to compare with, I set out into her world. I've finished the whole trilogy five months ago, but never got around to writing a review. This is the review
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of the first book only.

The first thing that strikes you all through the book is how much she put into worldbuilding. It's one of the most vividly realized worlds in fantasy, in my opinion. You have Gernia, the protagonist's homeland, with an ambitious King and his plans of driving expansion eastward through the land of Specks. You have Landsing, who defeated Gernia many years ago and took many of their strategic towns. The conflict between the old and the new nobility. The Plainspeople and their constant warring with both the Specks and the Gernians. The mysterious Specks with their unknown magics. I could write a book on the world alone, suffice to say it's terrific to immerse yourself into.

Then there's Nevare. Upright, honorable, and about as rigid as a pillar of stone. Much of the whole trilogy goes on within him, his thoughts and fears and self-doubting introspection. He strives to do the right thing so hard that sometimes he can be difficult to sympathize with, for some readers. I wasn't one of them. For myself, I found the introspection to be as much "the story" as the external events. His gradual discovery of the person he is, his devotion to his country and family, and his limitless perseverance to set things right were all wonderful elements of his character.

Other characters were all memorable, his cousin, his friends, his family. I won't comment on each of them, but you will know them as real characters as you've ever met. Top notch characterization from Robin Hobb. Dialogue was beautiful too.

The story is sometimes slow, I'll own that. But while not much was going on from page to page in some places, I was still flying through them given the superior fluidity of the writing. I wasn't bothered by the pace, I was glad I was in that world and with those characters.

The plot I'll keep a surprise, I hate spoilers more than anything. I'll only tell you it's engaging and more large-scaled than you can guess from the first book. I've read the whole trilogy, remember?

I'm supposed to mention the drawbacks, aren't I? I won't say there are none. As I see it, most reader complaints were based on three points:
1. The Farseer protagonist was WAY cooler.
2. Slow paced story.
3. Repetition of info.

From my point of view, the only issue I had with the book was the relatively limited action. Events were sparse along the first book, giving much more space to description and linear progress of Nevare's life. It wasn't a huge problem, but every now and then you'd wish to see some more action, some better view of the fantastic world all around. Part of the reason for that is how NEW the author tried to go for everything. New plot type, new character frame, new world setting, an almost experimental trilogy. She had to go slow, structured, and with gradual exposition to lay it all in a way the reader can be acquainted with. The other part was the plot itself, it had to go that way. It's so much Nevare's story that the trilogy could have been named just that, "Nevare's Story". You have to follow his steps and skip nothing from cover to cover throughout the three books to reach the ultimate ending.

All in all, a terrific new sort of story in one the most beautiful fantasy worlds I've ever seen. Highly recommended with the condition you buy all three books to get the greater story. As for Nevare, you either love him or hate him.
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LibraryThing member vistana
One of Robin Hobb's weakest books.
None of the characters are particularly sympathetic. I never felt drawn into the story. I couldn't quite tell who I was supposed to be cheering for, which makes it hard to care who wins. The ending was unsatisfying, and left me with no desire to read the rest of
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this series.
Disappointing, after how fantastic her other books have been.
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LibraryThing member Estemy
I admit I was seriously disappointed in this book. Of course I know Hobb's style where the book gets to the true action in the end, but at least, in previus novels, the beginning hasn't been AS boring.

Already in the beginning the reader can guess, that the main plot will start when the main
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character goes to an "university" to become an officer. What I don't understand is, why does it take half a book for him to reach there? Only some minor things happen in the beginning and to be honest then the long and boring beginning ruined this book for me.
Perhaps I expected too much of it, having chosen this one above so many others in London's book-stores. First time hobb has disappointed me, but I will still look forward to next parts in hopes the plot will become more interesting, since the other half of the book was't that bad at all.
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LibraryThing member Janientrelac
Inside this trilogy is a really good book trying to get out. The father son relationship, the training of soldiers, the conflicting ways of life, the fairness of her writing, it was good but it could have been great.

I don't think one of her ideas could work at all, first sons take their fathers
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job/role and second sons are always soldiers, given a society with big families I think that there would be to many soldiers, not sure.
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LibraryThing member dowd
It's not often you find me capering around a bookstore, joyfully exclaiming “Whee, look, the first part of the new fantasy trilogy is out.” But then again, this is by Robin Hobb, whose previous trilogies included The Liveship Traders and The Tawny Man, which I had eagerly devoured.

This one is
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set in an apparently new universe. The land of Gernia has a rigid social hierarchy. If you are a noble, your first son is your heir, the second son is a soldier, the third a priest, fourth dedicated to the arts, etc. etc. Soldier sons make more soldier sons for ever, unless for some reason they are ennobled and the whole cycle starts over. This is what has happened in the Burvelle family. Nevare Burvelle’s father is part of a group of new aristocracy, created by the young King from a cadre of soldier sons who have successfully expanded the kingdom eastward into the empty plains. Nevare has been brought up on a rural estate, in a family dedicated to the King and military honour, and is about to take up his rightful position as a student at the military Academy, to prepare him for his future career as a cavalry officer.
So far, so straightforward. Except of course the plains weren't empty. The last remnants of the plains tribes are living in reservations or learning a new life as peasant farmers or herdsmen under the new landholders. And the old aristocracy are not happy about the shift in the balance of power, and believe the eastward expansion should not have been prioritised over the old old war with the rival civilisation to the west. The cavalry charge eastward has run into the Barrier Mountains. The tribespeople here are stronger, and have a more dangerous magic. The forts and outposts on the fringes of the mountains suffer regular outbreaks of a virulent plague, and from their holding on one of the main routes east young Nevare regularly watches as bright troops of cavalry ride east to glory and wagon loads of cripples stagger west to die. It's easy to imagine the characters and landscape, you just need to dredge up some John Ford/John Wayne Seventh Cavalry movies. Nevare isn't John Wayne though, he is the prissy young officer who knows nowt save honour. His father is vaguely aware that this is a shortcoming, and in order to give Nevare a head start at the Academy he decides to give him a practical education. As part of this, he sends him on some sort of Outward Bound course with a local Native Gernian. Dewara of the Kidona has his own agenda for Nevare’s future, however, and so our story really starts. The bulk of this book takes place at the Academy (think West Point), and forms a self-contained story. Given that it is advertised as the first part of a trilogy, though, I guess I'm free to speculate that there is a “ novice officer in the field” to come. But based on the author’s proven originality in both developing characters and devising logical but surprising plots, I’m reluctant to second-guess the plot of book three.

The book is narrated by Nevare – as he is both naive and slightly prudish, you as reader have to expend some effort in working out what's really going on, and the motivations of other characters. The author’s done it very well, so it isn't that difficult, but you do have to pay attention. The fellow students at the Academy, the instructors and the internal politics are all well-defined, lovable or hateful as appropriate, with lots of twists and turns and excellent dramatic crises. The magical aspect is woven in well, it isn't intrusive, and sits logically in the plot structure. No random “ with one wave of his wand she was free” rubbish, it's much more about the spirituality of different cultures, and some of the practical aspects of shamanism. There's also quite a lot of discussion about the roles and goals of women, especially intelligent women, in such a restrictive society, and what happens when you force young men from all levels of society into predefined roles. Especially when they know that their success or failure will determine what happens to their bloodline for ever.

The only criticism I have to make is that the texture perhaps wasn't as rich as I remember her previous books being - but I'd need to reread the first ones of the other trilogies to check whether that texture wasn't built up during the whole body of work, and if the first ones were less complex across-the-board.

Overall, it was a really good book, the traditional “ couldn't put it down” - which meant staying up all night, as it is physically a big book and difficult to read in bed. I would recommend it, especially if you’re not a traditional fantasy reader or if you like Firefly/Serenity or other Western/SF crossovers – or even if you like John Wayne movies. It certainly isn’t full of elves and dwarves and magical bits and bobs, the heroes are as likely to be engineers or mathematicians as brave warriors, and the women are Real People. The main reason not to read it now is that it's only just out in hardback, which means ages to wait for the next one. You could always fill in the time by reading her other trilogies, though!
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LibraryThing member hjjugovic
Engrossing but tedious in places if you've actually done the basic training thing. Plot kept me guessing. Nevare (main character) too dumb to breath in some places. I didn't see the ending coming, so I call that a winner.
LibraryThing member Highlander99
I enjoyed this book immensely, my first Robin Hobb's novel. She reminds me a lot of Canadian Guy Gavriel Kay in her ability to weave a highly believable world full of rich characters, incredible geography and intriguing plots and sub plots. This trilogy depict's a soldier son's life and career in
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the Cavalla in a fantasy world that blends Byzantine and Old West elements. I look forward to the next two volumes.
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LibraryThing member lewispike
I've just reread this, having bought book 2 and not being sure where we were. I actually find it really hard to give this a rating, as parts of the book are excellent and parts are terrible, at least in my opinion.

I think the problem is that the trope of "harsh cadet officer academy" is overplayed.
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I'm not saying such a situation never existed, but it's laid on too thickly to be plausible. It goes beyond hazing into attempted murder on a number of occasions, and the reasons for it grow thinner and thinner with each repetition.

In addition, I'm not sure the apparently dominant culture would survive as described. It's an incredibly strongly caste ridden society believing wholly in predestination (the second son of a noble will be a soldier regardless of all else).

Despite these reservations, and I remember them vaguely from the first time of reading, I found I was interested enough in some of the characters and their stories that I want to read book 2, but it's not one of Robin Hobb's best, by quite some way.
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LibraryThing member stubbyfingers
This book was a disappointment. Mostly because having read the Assassin's Apprentice series by Robin Hobb and loving them so much I practically read each 700+ page novel in one sitting, I expected so much more from this author. Reading this book was frustrating. The story itself was interesting, or
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at least it felt like it could be interesting, but it was bogged down somehow. I felt like I had gone to a nursing home and was politely listening to a story being told by a very old man who definitely had a very interesting youth but now can't get the story out of his brain in a timely manner. It's all cloudy and slow and by the time you get to the end you and he both have forgotten what the point of the story was in the first place. Was there a point to this or was this just the ramblings of an old man? The characters were interesting (all except maybe the main one who I wanted to kick and tell him to get over himself), the social structure of the world was interesting, and the story itself had a lot of potential, but darn if I wasn't bored silly most of the time. It took me forever to get through this. Oddly enough, though, as soon as I finished this I wanted to pick up the second book in the series and find out what happens next.
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LibraryThing member dbecker
I *loved* the Assassin's Apprentice and Fool series, but this was a total disappointment to me. I'm not even going to bother with the second book. The main character was SO frustrating, and I have trouble reading books like that.
LibraryThing member eddy79
Could not get into this at all. I wonder if Hobb is too characer-driven for my tastes now? Action isn't high on her list of priorities. Its a shame as I enjoyed the Farseer books so much. I wonder if the novelty of being into a fantasy novel for the first time kept me motivtaed throughout that
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LibraryThing member littlegeek
After so many negative reviews, I was trepidatious about reading this one, but I really enjoyed it. Sure, the boarding school meme is pretty much played out and the characters of Navare's friends are mostly predictable, but there's some intriguing stuff here. I give props to anyone messing around
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with the idea of a fantasy "hero." Nevare is not orphaned, courageous, good-hearted or a rebel. He is dragged kicking and screaming into a magical world and never warms up to it. For this experiment alone, it was worth reading. Apparently lots of readers need a Luke Skywalker type to root for to enjoy a book, but to me the novelty of Nevare's character was the best thing in it.

Minus points for the scar thingy. You're already in Harry Potter teritory with boarding school, the scar that connects you to your magical enemy was a bit much.
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LibraryThing member maggie1944
a relatively pedestrian fantasy book which I enjoyed reading while noting several nearly fatal flaws. I will not continue reading the series. I don't care that much for any of the characters.
LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
An interesting world, I was enjoying the youth maturing and making friends aspect, interesting enough to keep reading. The political conflict between the old and news lords looked interesting.
LibraryThing member clstaff
Yet again another great start to a Hobb trilogy. It follows the story of Nevare, his induction into the school for Cavalla (horseback soldier) officers and his links with the magic of the plainspeople. I could see how this book may not be that exciting for those who don't like fantasy, or don't
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worship Hobb as I do.
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LibraryThing member jimmaclachlan
3.5 stars & I may round down to 3 after the next 2 books. The magic system was wonderful & Hobb does take proper care of horses. She even has the hero taking care of his tack, a major plus. Excellent world with an a defeated society that is expanding over new territory. Very realistic & well done.

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listened to it as an audio book with a good reader, but Hobb repeats herself enough that I wondered if the book was originally published as a serial. I don't think it was & she repeated herself even within sections until it drove me mad at times.

My biggest complaint with the writing was the heavy handed foreshadowing coupled with the idiot hero, though. Yes, he's sheltered & in his late teens, but his denseness was just too much & led to a lot of the problems I had with the writing. I often knew a lot of the story before it happened. Luckily, Hobb throws in enough twists that there was fresh material.

I've heard this was the best of the trilogy. I hope not. I'm going to try the second book & have my fingers crossed. If the repetition is less due to the world & it's problems being setup, it should be enjoyable. There's a lot of story left to be told.
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LibraryThing member awoods187
This book was [retty good. I really enjoyed the coming of age story. The world building was well done but I didnt much care for the
magic system.


Prix Imaginales (Nominee — Best Foreign Novel — 2007)


Original publication date


Physical description

544 p.; 9.06 inches


000719613X / 9780007196135
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