Along the Silk Route, in 1766, the East India Company seeks to secure its future. Alain Pierrespont, hunted in England, has been transported here, where the days are scorched and the nights are full of teeth!
Writer: Ram V
Artist: Sumit Kumar
Colorist: Vittorio Astone
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: Vault Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: October 3, 2018
This is the story of a vampire who slipped up in England – he was seen and recognized and became hunted. For his safety, he was moved far away, to Calicut, in India – a land with daemons and legends even older than he is…
AND THE NIGHTS ARE FULL OF TEETH
These Savage Shores #1 is an elegantly crafted book. It is set in 1766, well after the fall of the Mughal Empire, when not only were local leaders struggling for territory, but colonial companies were also interfering, so this is a fascinating point in history with a lot of conflict present. We begin in India, with a man and a woman (who are clearly intimate) talking. She asks the man, Bishan, how he was made, and he tells her a story that indicates he is a divine creature, one of a group who almost ate a god, now sent to live among mortals.
The scene then changes to a pair of ships, where we zoom in on a passenger, who is writing a letter. Part of the writing of this book is in letters, notes, journal entries – appropriate for the time period, but also a storytelling technique not often seen in comics. The man, Alain, is writing about his passage and this gives way to hints of his backstory (which we see, in images, as he writes). The crew is nervous of him, perhaps even clutching a crucifix when near him. And as his memory kicks in, we see that he is a vampire, found while feeding, recognized, and hunted by a vampire hunter. He escapes and makes it back to his patron’s manor, but it is too dangerous for him to stay in England. His patron is fond of him, but on a ship of the East India Company he must go, to Calicut.
The ship lands in India, where the Captain and crew are eager to see the last of him. He meets up with Colonel Smith, who is trying to build a road connecting the coasts of India, a land route for trade. Prince Vikram, of the Zamorin, will be his host. Colonel Smith hopes to be able to make the Prince an ally.
We see an interlude with Bishan and the woman, whose name is Kori. They come upon an ancient tree, hollowed out, and inhabited by bats. She asks him again how he was made, and he tells her a different story this time – he was descended from gods and ruled the world with his brother, until he helped a mortal man kill him. For this, he has been blessed with eternity and cursed with loneliness. We also find out that Bishan works for the Prince.
The young Prince does finally introduce himself to Alain, accompanied by a tall, silent man with a dramatically painted face (whom I assume is Bishan). There is polite conversation, followed by a warning – if Alain goes about the grounds at night, he should watch out for savage things. Alain counters that he has nothing to fear. He and Bishan exchange a long glance.
Kori is dancing at the temple that night. (This is a teen rated book – the temple dancers are topless, and there is definitely some blood and violence.) At the same time, Alain goes out riding alone. We also see a leopard with its kill. Alain comes across the temple and sees the dancers. Kori leaves, walking alone through the jungle, and comes across a pool which she steps into to bathe. Alain has followed her, and comes in after her, teeth bared, but something grabs him from behind and we see a spray of blood.
We close with a letter from Prince Vikram to Colonel Smith, informing him of regrettable news. It is very formal and prosaic, but in the images, we see the horse come back home, with a body tied to the saddle.
LIFE AND DEATH, SUN AND SHADOW
The art of These Savage Shores #1 is beautiful. I hardly know where to begin, there is just so much that I like. We’re dealing with different cultures here, and I really like that we spend a lot of space in India, spending time with characters there and seeing what they see. Many of us Western readers are already somewhat familiar with England in that time, and we do not need to linger there. The opening, in the jungle, is strong and sets us firmly in India.
Alain’s letter writing is interspersed with his memories, and I also like how this is handled. The panels virtually alternate between the ship at present and his memories of the recent past, but due to the color palettes used, we know where we are at all times. I appreciate the contrast between the polite, almost distant language of the letter, and the more emotional images of Alain as he writes.
Almost every page has something else new and interesting to see. The city scenes in Calicut are crowded and feel hot and noisy, bustling with activity. Night time at the Prince’s house feels still, quiet, and hot. Watching Kori dance, you can almost hear the drums and bells. She also wears henna, so that’s another level of detail in the art. By the time we get to the end, we see various people with expressions of terror which makes the close all the more chilling.
BOTTOM LINE: THIS IS A FANTASTIC BOOK
I was not sure what to expect from These Savage Shores #1, but one thing I really love about it is that it kept surprising me. There are undercurrents in this story we’re just beginning to see. And there is so much calm and beauty which is just a thin veneer over the dark forces at play.