[+++Warning: This review contains some spoilers+++]
It’s been a while, but finally These Savage Shores #5 is upon us, from Ram V, Sumit Kumar, Vittorio Astone and Aditya Bidikar, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Our hero, Bishan – a vampiric Raaksha of Hindu mythology – is on his way to London to duel it out with Count Jurre Grano, a savage monster dressed up in the garbs of civility and playing at aristocracy. A walking metaphor for colonialism if ever there was one. It is Bishan who has to try and teach this so-called civilised being some home truths and it is Bishan who has remained the most civilised character in this series. When violence is finally unleashed, it is as a last resort. Although, there is the taste of revenge to this deed, given the fate of his true-love from last issue. Needless to say, even in what feels like it should be a happy ending for some, history has shown us that this is simply not the case for India and in particular for the people of Mysore, who believe they have won a ‘great victory’ over the British, only to realise this is a falsehood. All an illusion. Already there are some who realise this and ‘celebrate what we can’, while serving as ruler in name only. The dawn of the East India Company is upon India and all it will do to its people over the next century and more is yet to happen. But, from our privileged position as a 21st century reader, it is a further sadness added to an already sad story.
And, it’s a sadness that is present from the very first page as Ram V effectively creates an appropriately somber and melancholy mood for this final chapter.
And so, Bishan and Kori travel the long, slow, arduous distance between India and England, all set against the historical background of India’s colonisation by stealth and under the pretence of a peace treaty. Ram V choses this particular era in global geo-political history purposefully. This is not just a tragic love story, but the tragedy of a whole nation who, through one-sided negotiations and underhandedness – on the part of the British – cheat the noble and proud indigenous rulers out of their birthright, their lands and their culture in the aftermath of the Anglo-Mysore Wars. The 18th century was the beginning of the end for India’s independence which, arguably, even now, decades after being given their mots recent independence in 1947, still suffers the hangover of colonial rule. Once again, as this story comes to a close, we are reminded of the ironic sting of the series title; These Savage Shores.
Of course, the tenderness and the sadness of proceedings in this final issue would not be half as impactful if not for the sumptuous, delicate, almost filigree-like artwork of Sumit Kumar. As well as this particular series being a high point of Ram V’s burgeoning writing career (with so much more to give, if his trajectory as a writer of just a few short years is anything to go by) it’s made to shine ever so much more thanks to Kumar and the delightful colour work of Astone. Who would have though that one of my stone-cold favourite titles of this year would be a period drama set in the 18th century. The literature of this era – all primness, propriety, bonnets and buffoonish village vicars – was exactly the kind of books I avoided reading, even when study literature at university. Yet here I am, lapping it up. Although, there weren’t many sightings of vampires in Mansfield Park or anywhere thereabouts, I must admit. This is an E M Forster novel but filtered through the mind of Edgar Allan Poe. Not so much Where Angels Fear To Tread, but rather Where Vampires Fear To Tread instead, and from a creative team mostly hailing from the self-same ‘savage shores’ of India. A truly gothic story, but one told from a very different and exotic perspective to any other tales of vampirism you’re familiar with. Cultural appropriation of a very different hue, indeed and one that breathes originality and freshness into a sub-genre of gothicism that often has felt stale in recent years.
I do hope this isn’t the last journey to the ‘savage shores’ of India, or the last we see of Bishan, either. I imagine, from the critical feedback, Ram V must surely be tempted to return to these rich, vibrant characters further down the road and explore further tales of tragedy and terror in far off lands, and far off times.
The Savage Shores #5 will be out on Wednesday, the 9th of September from Vault Comics.
And, if you’ve missed this series, look to for the special, limited edition gold-ink hardcover on Local Comic Book Day on November 23rd.