Disclosure: The reviewer received a review copy of this book via the Author

Review: Negative Return by Jessie KwakNegative Return: A Durga System Novella by Jessie Kwak
Series: Durga System #2
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Noir
Release: 2017
Type: Novella
Source: the Author

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Following up on Starfall, Jessie Kwak delivers another hard punch with Negative Return.

Once again, the story focuses on the criminal underworld of the Durga System. We have the return of Willem Jaantzen, a local crime boss with a nasty reputation, and more mentions of the Indiran Alliance and the planet of New Sarjun. Although there’s no chronology given, the activities imply that the story is set some time before the events of Starfall.

This installment follows Manu, a young freelance hitman and bounty hunter. He’s not the toughest or most competent, but he can read people like a champ. Manu has read the writing on the wall and realizes that it is too dangerous to go it alone. His current job is a trial for potential initiation into a crew, and some measure of safety. All he has to do is kill Willem Jaantzen.

The job goes wrong, but Manu has another shot at survival–by working for Jaantzen, himself. Manu joins up with a gang of misfit thugs who he cannot trust–and who don’t trust him–for a job that could get him killed.

The POV stays with Manu throughout the story. Since Manu is essentially an untrusted conscript on this team, he has little idea what is going on, or who he can trust. This allows the caper to unfold in front of the reader without divulging too much information until the action happens. While preparing, Manu tries to read his crewmates, giving us glimpses and insights into the other characters as the story develops.

What Makes it Epic Grit:

  • Adventure and Wonder: The story is action-packed and features some cool tech.
  • Believable Characters: Though the cast is diverse, we can easily discern each character’s motivations.
  • Real Consequences: These bad guys don’t do nice things.
  • Epic in Scope: This is a little more personal in scope, with a caper and personal survival at its core.
  • Subverts “Good versus Evil” Tropes: There’s bad guys, sociopaths, criminals, and murderers.
  • Different Perspectives: Again, there’s bad guys, sociopaths, criminals, and murderers. A motley bunch.


This is another great story, and, at novella length, a quick read. The first two installments of the Durga System series are like bricks building up this world little by little. The approach is like the mid-twentieth century stories by Isaac Asimov or Cordwainer Smith, who published shorter works in magazines to build out their worlds. The rise of indie publishing, with digital and audio delivery, has made novellas and short stories commercially viable again. As demonstrated in Negative Return, this has made storytelling sharper and better.

Negative Return is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, with a release date of June 28, 2017.