Review: Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras with Mary Kirby

Review: Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras with Mary KirbyHard in Hightown by Varric Tethras, Mary Kirby, Stefano Martino, Álvaro Sarraseca, Andrés Ponce, Ricardo German Ponce Torres, E.M. Gist
Format: hardcover
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy, graphic novel, mystery
Pages: 96
Published by Dark Horse Books on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Prolific dwarven author and heroic companion of the Dragon Age games, Varric Tethras brings us the collected edition of his breakthrough crime-noir drama, Hard in Hightown (with help from his trusted human confidante, Mary Kirby)! This volume is beautifully illustrated by Stefano Martino, Alvaro Sarraseca, Andres Ponce, and Ricardo German Ponce Torres, with a painted cover by E.M. Gist!

Twenty years of patrols have chiseled each and every stone of the Kirkwall streets into city guardsmen Donnen Brennokovic. Weary and weathered, Donnen is paired with a recruit so green he might as well have leaves growing out of his armor. When the mismatched pair discover a dead magistrate bleeding out on the flagstones, they're caught up in a clash between a shadowy organization known only as the Executors and a secretive group of Chantry agents--all over some ancient artifact.

This is a prose novel featuring 24 black and white full page images.

My Review:

This book seems like it’s kind of a joke. Admittedly an in-joke for people who love the Dragon Age games, of which I am certainly one.

But it also sorta/kinda isn’t a joke. Like many stories that are part of long-running series, it’s also a visit with old friends. Both of the slightly disguised and not-so-slightly disguised variety. After having a book epically fail this week, I needed something that was sort of a joke and definitely a visit with some old and dear friends.

That this was the first thing I ordered sent to the new house that has arrived so far was kind of icing on the cake. It was meant to be.

On the one hand, this story is pretty much steeped in the Dragon Age universe. Varric Tethras, the “author” of the book, has quite the reputation as an author within the series. When asked about his writing, his response rings true for the real world as well as his fictional world, “There’s power in stories, though. That’s all history is: the best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.”

Hard in Hightown is one of his most popular. It’s also a lot of fun, mixing fairly standard genre tropes into what feels like a fully realized fantasy setting. It’s the story of a guardsman nearing retirement who falls headfirst into one last big case. A man with a reputation for breaking the rules in order to get things done, Donnen doggedly follows the sparse clues from person to person, place to place and ambush to ambush.

The path takes him through punishment, betrayal and ultimately a reward that is better than money. Or at least he hopes it will be.

And it’s the kind of tale that would easily fit into one of the old shared world series like Thieves’ World or Liavek. It also sounds like the kind of case, and in the kind of place, that Sam Vimes used to tackle in Ankh-Morpork before he married into the nobility.

In other words, Hard in Hightown is a mystery set in a fantasy universe. Reading it brought back a lot of fond memories, both of the game and of the fantasy mysteries it strongly resembles.

And it was a load of fun from beginning to end, at least for this fan. I’m not sure it would work for anyone who did not have at least a passing familiarity with Dragon Age, particularly Dragon Age II. Admittedly, I’m not sure why anyone who wasn’t already a fan would pick this up in the first place, except as a joke.

But Varric was every bit as much fun a storyteller as he is as a character. Reading this made me nostalgic. I think another playthrough of the series is on my horizon – at least as soon as we dig out from the worst of the moving debris.

Escape Rating B: I was looking for a palate-cleanser of a book, something to wash the taste of a complete failure out of my mouth. So I switched from a book that managed to make what should have been an exciting story into a dull recitation, and turned to a writer I knew could make falling down the stairs into an epic tale. And I’m glad I did. If you’re a fan, you’ll love it.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Hard in Hightown by Varric Tethras with Mary Kirby

  1. I know you typically just ignore books that you didn’t care for rather than unloading on them in the blog, but I’m sometimes curious about them nevertheless. 🙂

    1. If I don’t finish, or don’t get far enough to even write a coherent review, I just don’t. There are occasions where I will review a book I hated, if only because I can make something amusing out of it – or provide a horrible warning. My absolute pan of The Right Bride is my most popular review on Goodreads. But in this particular case the book was Hunting the Truth. It’s the memoir of a husband and wife team of Nazi hunters. This stuff really happened. It should be riveting, but the writing just leached all the energy out of it. A much better book on the same topic is The Nazi Hunters by Andrew Nagorski.
      Marlene Harris recently posted..Review: The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen BrooksMy Profile

  2. Thanks for responding. I had been looking forward to the Klarsfelds’ book when it first appeared on your list and figured it got pushed back to the following week only because you had so much on your plate. Their personal story and work has interested me since I first heard of them decades ago. It’s too bad their book wasn’t as compelling as real life, but their legacy stands. Thanks for the alternate recommendation.

    I’m glad the move went well, that the whole crew is settling in, and that you’re feeling better. Take care.

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