The middle volume of HSE opens the storyline out, finds the everyman caught up in the manipulations of others and only just beginning to realise that this whole Human Stock Exchange idea may just rob him of everything he has, particularly the things you just can’t put a price on.
It’s excellent Euro thriller material with a wonderfully high concept of a hideous future that could well be closer than we think.
I reviewed the first volume of this Euro title back in 2021, saying this: “It’s very clever, it’s very well done, it’s got incredible potential for the rest of the series and it’s one I’ll definitely be reading.” Volume 2? More of the same, taking us right down the nightmarish rabbit hole set up in the first volume.
And yes, this second volume does everything the first did. It’s success obviously comes from Xavier Dorison’s high high concept along with Thomas Allart doing excellent things in bringing the whole thing to life.
Frankly, the high-concept near-future tale of HSE was always going to work with Dorison helming it, taking that simple idea of a world where the economy’s tanked, the state is in pieces, and it’s all about privatisation and a complete dependence on the free-market economy. To go from this to the simple idea of the Human Stock Exchange is the great leap and a leap that works, Dorison adding believability to the whole thing, no matter how strange and far-fetched it might be.
Basically, in this new, nightmare world, it’s individuals who are listed, and those people work themselves practically to death attempting to boost their perceived value to their investors.
Here in volume 2, we’re still following poor old Felix Fox, former poorly-paid car salesman, now riding high on his successes on the HSE. Of course, it’s all thanks to HSE founder, Simon Sax – but with Felix seemingly riding high, he’s got the new house, the flash car, and the potential to go even higher, he’s blinded to the possibility of failure. But he’s even more blinded by the question we’re all asking now – why Felix? What the hell has Simon Sax got riding on him and why?
We saw the cracks begin in volume 1 of HSE but here it all boils over and Felix begins to grasp just what’s really at stake – keeping his stock high means never-ending hard work but increasingly cruel sacrifices and even betrayals that need to be made.
Just like with volume 1, this second volume had me hooked, thanks both to Dorison’s tight plotting and ability to throw a hell of a lot of the high concept’s ideas at us whilst still propelling it all along with the pace of an action movie.
But a huge amount of credit goes to Allart for the sheer readability of HSE, page after page of talking heads and finance meetings might not seem the sort of thing to keep you on the edge of your seat but Allert never rests in giving the reader a new angle, nailing the visuals, the characters, eeking out every bit of emotion from his faces, and just occasionally really letting loose with a beautiful bit of mood setting artwork. You know, like this…
But for every one of those interstitial moments, there’s work from Allart that fills out the characters so well, doing all that hard work to enable Dorison to be able to tell his high concept tale so very well. And it’s those moments of emotional payback that really take your breath away with HSE. Moments like this…
The whole this couldn’t happen idea? Well, it’s so much closer than we think. All it takes is someone like Bezos or Musk to suggest it and we’re going to see it happening a lot sooner than we could ever imagine. And that’s where Dorison’s brilliance in crafting something that initially seems so outrageous is to be found.
So, two volumes in and one to go, this is still top-notch Euro thriller material from a couple of very fine creators, cerebral, questioning, yet still managing to be a perfect little page turning thriller.