Interview: Bioware’s Mary Kirby About Upcoming Dragon Age Novella ‘Hard In Hightown’

I’m Not Fan-Girling, You Are!

Hard in Hightown

Hard in Hightown, this cover is not… But I’d like to think that Aveline shows up in the photoshoot just before chasing Varric for publishing this book in the first place.

If you know anything about me, it’s that I’m a big fan of Bioware and the Dragon Age series. I still play them regularly, getting lost in their world and the characters that inhabit it. It’s a fantastic series, incredibly underrated and full of love and detail that makes me proud to say I’m a fan.

So you can imagine my delight at hearing that we would be getting another piece of Dragon Age goodness to tide us over before Dragon Age 4 is released.

Yes, that’s right. Varric Tethras has finally sat himself down with his human companion, Mary Kirby, to publish his most famous literary work, Hard in Hightown.

I knew immediately I needed to find out more about this masterpiece. And so, very graciously, the superb Mary Kirby kindly answered some of my questions about how Hard in Hightown came to be, why it is being published now rather than seven years ago when it was first mentioned and whether we might see some Dragon Age II favourites again.

HPP: Hi Mary! First off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions when no doubt you’re a pretty busy person. I truly appreciate it.

HPP: So, it’s been quite a while since Dragon Age II when we first met Varric and the Kirkwall gang. It was also the first time we heard about ‘Hard In Hightown’, irregularly published at the time because of the unrest happening in Kirkwall. How much has ‘Hard In Hightown’ changed from when you, I mean Varric, first thought of the idea to where you are now? Any major changes?

Mary Kirby:  When the book first came up, it was very much a cop-movie joke. The title, “Hard in Hightown,” is a play on Die Hard. and Varric’s comment on his protagonist, “He’s getting too old for this shit.” Was a Lethal Weapon reference (All the Lethal Weapons, actually). The further the joke went (“Hard in Hightown 2: Siege Harder”) it was still solidly in Cop-movie land. There is still a good chunk of that in the real book. We have rookie partners and counting days till retirement, etc. When I started to actually write it, I immediately wanted it to be a hardboiled detective story because noir felt like a good fit for Varric’s voice. So the plot is much more heavily based on The Maltese Falcon than 80’s cop action flicks. Or it’s like the weird love-child of Dashiell Hammet and 80’s cop flicks, I guess.



HPP: Varric is a fan favourite in Dragon Age and I know you’re the one who created the dwarf we all know and love. That said, as this is, I believe, your first Dragon Age novel, how did you feel writing it in terms of voice? Were there times where you struggled with your voice bleeding over into Varric’s, or is it just natural to know what he would do and say by now?

Mary Kirby: Honestly, the parts that are most Varric-like were the easiest for me. I’m used to writing in his voice. There are a lot of dry dwarven observations about Kirkwall society and snide comments about the Merchants’ Guild peppered in among the scenes. It is sometimes hard for me to make him get to the point.



HPP: Why did you want to write ‘Hard In Hightown’ right now, almost seven years after Dragon Age 2?

Mary Kirby: During development on Dragon Age: Inquisition, we started holding “DA weeks.” One week every few months where everyone would work on creative projects that were related to DA, but might not actually be game content. My project for one of them was to write “Hard in Hightown” in codex form – which meant as a series of drabbles. Codex entries can be only 500 words long, max. I managed about half of what eventually went into DAI during that week. (And the rest when we actually did the codex writing later.)

Flash forward a couple of years. We had finished up Trespasser, and I got an IM out of the blue from our Creative Director, Mike Laidlaw asking me if I would be interested in fleshing out and publishing Hard in Hightown as a novella. I think my reaction was, “Sure! But, is that a thing people would actually want to read?”

Hard in Hightown


HPP: Hard In Hightown is clearly a must-have for Dragon Age fans. So, what would entice fans that have no clue what Dragon Age is, to read Hard In Hightown?

Mary Kirby:  Oh jeez. If you like mystery crime novels, but think they just need more swords, this might be your book?


HPP: I noticed Hawke on the beautiful cover of ‘Hard in Hightown’ and the mention of Merrill and got a tad bit excited. Is there any chance we’ll see some cameos from other characters counterparts, such as Isabela, Fenris, Aveline, etc? Or should I go cry into my Isabela shirt in woe?

Mary Kirby: All of Varric’s friends (and also Sebastian) appear in the story. All the names are changed to protect the dwarf from the wrath of his buddies. Mostly Aveline. (The original joke was that the book started a fist fight in the guard barracks over who the inspiration for “Donnen Brennokovic” was, since the name is a mashup of Donnic and Brennan.) Some are just cameos. Others (Hawke made the cover for a reason) are major characters. Isabela is definitely in there. You should probably consider her a beta reader for the book.


HPP: Varric has a lot of books under his belt. Are there any plans to publish any of his other works, such as Sword and Shields and Tales of The Inquisition’s Agents? Or is that perhaps thinking too far ahead?

Mary Kirby: I have no idea!


HPP: Last but not least, how does Varric feel about outselling Brother Genetivi’s Travels of A Chantry Scholar?

Mary Kirby: I imagine, if he can have “I out-sold that hack Genetivi,” carved over the gates to the Viscount’s Keep in Hightown, he will.


I had a complete blast talking to Mary about Hard in Hightown, and I cannot stress enough that if you’re a fan of Dragon Age then you should definitely consider pre-ordering as soon as you can.

Thank you for reading and from us and stay tuned for more Hard in Hightown!

Aimee Hart
When not sleeping (which is...a lot of the time), Aimee is writing up a storm for her latest ideas. Hailing from the city Birmingham, she's had a love for video games since playing Star Wars Episode 1: Racer on the PC with her trusty joystick! Since then she's developed a firm love for RPGs and JRPGs and considers them her second love, straight after dogs. Her favourite games are: Tales of Berseria, Dragon Age II (don't judge!), Final Fantasy X and Pyre. You can hear her ramble about them @honhonitsaimee on Twitter.

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