These Savage Shores


By Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone, Aditya Bidikar & various (Vault Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-93942-440-2 (TPB/Digital edition)

Rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in western comics, award-winning writer Ram V has been making waves since 2016. I will surprise absolutely no one by revealing that Ram Venkatesan’s career actually began in his birthland of India as early as 2012, and we in the west barely noticed…

While resident in Mumbai, he created acclaimed series Aghori before moving to Britain to take a Creative Writing MA at the City of London University. Since then he’s co-created series such as The Many Deaths of Laila Starr; Ruin of Thieves; Paradiso; Blue in Green; Black Mumba and Brigands. He’s also made serious inroads into the US superhero mainstream with stints on Marvel’s Venom and DC’s Justice League Dark; Catwoman, the reinvented Swamp Thing and Batman: Gotham Nocturne.

His stellar trajectory was enhanced by two projects for America’s Vault Comics: Radio Apocalypse and – spanning October 2018 to October 2019 – 5-issue miniseries These Savage Shores. Illustrated by Sumit Kumar, coloured by Vittorio Astone and lettered by Aditya Bidikar, this brooding, violent tale of timeless love and undying monsters is an historical drama tainted with horror overtones, combining gothic pastiche with the enticing mystique of colonial India, even if the events actually occur in the years before England officially conquered the “Sub-Continent” and became the British Empire…

Most enticingly and powerfully appealing, it takes the form of a bande dessinée-styled tale with broad cross genre appeal and is tailor-made for conversion to the large or small screen…

It begins in a paradisical garden where dancer Kori teasingly tests her lover Bishan, coquettishly enquiring what he is and how he was made…

The year is 1766 and, miles distant, a sailing ship of the East India Company carries a most unwelcome cargo. Disgraced scion of English Society’s most dangerous secret, Lord Alain Pierrefont has been exiled for breaking the cardinal rule of his class: being found out…

Eternal, patient and few in numbers, vampires have infested the aristocracy for centuries, leading discreet lives of bloody privilege while literally feeding off the poor. Those humans who reluctantly share the secret also know their place and keep quiet about the occasional atrocity. However, there are some mortals who ruthlessly hunt the clandestine overlords.

When one team almost ends the slumming predator, his peers and kin have no choice but to banish him for the shameful indiscretion of continuing to feed under the shocked gaze of crowds of no longer complacently ignorant human cattle…

With the discretion that sustains them as much as blood imperilled, vampire lords convene and Count Jurre Grano is compelled to despatch his favourite offspring to the ends of the Earth. In this case it’s also a promising new outpost of expansion: the squalid, unprepossessing port of Calicut on the Malabar Coast. The prodigal is left to the dubious care of his representative Colonel James Wilson Smith: a man of vision with dreams of controlling the immensely profitable wares previously carried by the fabled Spice Road of the East…

The merchant soldier’s plan is to divide and conquer for mercantile gain by grooming child-prince Vikram of the Zamorin, but impatient, spoiled Pierrefont will not be reasoned with. Calicut is just another playground to him and Kori his next meal. However, when the vampire traps her, his last thought is that he should have paid more attention to the Prince’s hulking masked bodyguard Bishan – a being also pretending to be merely mortal…

By October 2nd 1766, vampire hunter Zachariah Sturn has reached Calicut, determined to finish his business with Pierrefont. He believes the monster has found powerful and wealthy new allies to shield him and is unaware of the vampire’s actual fate. Reporting meagre progress in a letter to his clergyman brother, Sturn lays plans to topple these obstacles, assuming the boy Vikram has already been turned into a royal vampire…

Meanwhile in Mysore, young prince Tipu (Sultan Fatah Ali Sahab Tipu, known historically as Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore) meets his father Sultan Hyder Ali, Sahab to discuss the East India Company and their blatant plans for the always-warring rival kingdoms of India. The English are already destabilising the regions and are clearly going to use Vikram of the Zamorin as their wedge for further progress. The prophetic debate is derailed when recently-rejected Smith receives word that Pierrefont is dead – permanently dead – and realizes that there will be Hell to pay once the exile’s unholy family in England learn of it…

As the Sultan attempts to parlay with the Zamorim faction, their rebellious Prince Vikram has decreed a royal hunt to catch the “man-eater” that killed Pierrefont and Bishran bids farewell to Kori. The blatant cover-up does not deter Sturn, who stalks Vikram only to discover there are other, greater monsters serving those in the power in this land…

Pierrefont’s death gives the English justification to attack Mysore, but the international crisis has dangerously personal implications too. In England, Grano has learned of his kin’s death and reacts with typically ruthless disregard for human life. As the western invaders cut inland, Hyder Ali’s pleas for aid from Vikram fall on deaf ears, but his immortal guardian Bishram agrees to help fight the English. In March 1767 as a climactic battle looms, the eternal man-beast ponders how his endless ages of existence have been briefly brightened by love for the mortal Kori, before returning to the current war. Two months later, as Wilson’s soldiers remorselessly advance, Calicut greets another ship from Britain, carrying Grano and a contingent of vampires resolved to lay down their law and avenge a slain kinsman…

The fate of a nation is decided without them, as betrayal leads to British triumph. After waiting too long, Bishan unleashes the legendary beast inside him, but now only spiteful vengeance-taking is possible…

It is too little, too late. In November, the battle-ravaged land endures more horror as freshly-turned vampires roam by night: an undead army commanded by Grano who still obsessively hunts Pierrefont’s killer. The arrogant peer underestimates Vikram and his allies, however, almost losing everything in a brutal clash at the palace gates. His forces devasted, the vampire lord nevertheless succeeds, finally learning how his progeny died, and when Bishran returns a month later, he finds the malign bloodletter has returned to England, but left behind him a keepsake: one who will also abide forever…

The spectacular conclusion comes as Bishan voyages to London for definitive confrontation with Grano: one that will change many lives and determine the future of two kingdoms…

Superbly blending a sparkling and terrible time in history with classic horror themes, dark romance with canny political machinations and stunning action, These Savage Shores is a potent examination of power in all forms and its misuses, gloriously realised by illustrator Kumar (Batman; Justice League; Man-Bat) who also provides a large and lovely gallery of covers and variants here.

Beguiling, exotic wonderment for fear-loving older readers, this is a tale of the east no one should miss.
© 2019 Ram V & Sumit Kumar. All rights reserved.

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