- October 5, 2022
These Savage Shores Review: Dissecting the Modern Vampire
Spoilers for These Savage Shores.
Written by: Ram V
Illustrated by: Sumit Kumar
Colored by: Vittorio Astone
Lettered by: Aditya Bidikar
I aspire to be a writer, even a comic book writer hopefully. One of my goals is to write a great vampire story. It’s been a while since I talked about it, but vampires are truly my favorite monster from mythology and folklore. I want to know what yours are, but let me tell you now that These Savage Shores is one of my favorite vampire stories.
The vampire is an immortal predator, without divinity or holiness in their soul. Vampires can take many forms, and like dragons, they can include a great many other creatures who can be considered a vampire.
The creative team behind These Savage Shores understands the vampire well. So much so, that my immediate thought upon finishing this story is that maybe I shouldn’t bother writing another vampire story… because it will never be as good as this one.
The Horror Behind the Vampire Monster
These Savage Shores is something that everyone should read, not because it’s a fun vampire story, but because of how it uses vampires and monsters how they’re meant to be used. Monsters are not just created for the sake of being monsters. They’re created as allegories for real-life horrors. Their abilities allude to the power of real-life stand-ins, and their goals aim to show the consequences of those real-life horrors going unchecked.
Another favorite of mine, the werewolf, has been used to symbolize the uncontrollable tide of nature, among many things. Their unbelievable strength and vicious tenacity remind us why we should fear the wild nature we came from. At the same time, they are people turned into monsters, they are what humans used to be. Should we forget that we were once a part of nature, we will find ourselves unprepared for what to do in the face of true savagery.
The vampire, on the other hand, has been around so long that it has been used to represent a great many horrors, some unfounded and some not. The most famous form of the vampire in Western culture is arguably the European aristocrat. This monster dresses like we do, walks like we do, and talks like we do, but has the power to rip us limb from limb. They can dominate us both in body and mind, and they can do it with ease. This leads to many aristocratic vampire stories finding horror in how they feast on humans, and how they can make us into one of them.
These Savage Shores intertwines the characteristics of the vampire to tell a story about the horrors of colonialism through a vampire storming a place where they do not belong, taking what they want from the native inhabitants, and corrupting everything in their wake.
The Vampire Colonialism of These Savage Shores
The aristocratic vampire is of Europe. There are different takes and small differences between each European country’s take on the monster, but many of them share something in common that most European countries have in common. A history of forcibly making others into one of them. Vampires inherently resemble imperialists. They create covens that resemble empires and expand into neighboring humans by colonizing their minds like the East India Company colonized the Malabar Coast.
This book takes place in 1766 after Europe had colonized most of the Americas and had continued to push east of the Nile. This means the book is set when the East India Company was trying to colonize the Kingdom of Mysore, which is now part of India.
What Happens on These Savage Shores
With this setting, two stories are happening in These Savage Shores that parallel each other. We have Bishan, the Raakshas, which is possibly an adaption of a Hindu demi-god, a Rakshasa. These resemble what we would call a demon. It also shares characteristics with a vampire, specifically that it is also a man-eater. Bishan is being targeted by European vampires as his land and people are at war with the East India Company.
The first vampire, Alain Pierrefont, comes into the province of Calicut, sees all that it offers, and decides it is his to feast on without hesitation. He is an outsider, having never set foot on the Malabar Coast before in his life. Yet after one day, he decides to try and eat one of the people who welcomed him into their home.
Does that sound like anyone?
Bishan kills Alain before he can harm a single person, but from then on the vampires of Europe are coming for him. This A-plot parallels the B-plot of the English coming to the Malabar coast, seeking the land as space for their factories, ports for their shipping, and a source of resources for their products. At first, they offer to trade things the Kingdom of Mysore does not need, before coming to try and take it all for themselves.
The Kingdom of Mysore seems to push the East India Company back, as Bishan does the vampires, but it is all for naught. By the end, Mysore has sacrificed Calicut to the East India Company so they have what they want, and have a foothold to gain more.
Also by the end, the vampires have turned Bishan’s great love into a vampire, a foothold in India, and a foothold in Bishan’s life. Bishan may have killed the vampire’s leader, the one who turned his love, Kori, but Bishan and Kori have all but been corrupted as Mysore has.
What it Means to These Savage Shores
Vampires are monsters that corrupt. Here, they represent the threat of colonialism by how they devoured Bishan’s life. In the fight against them and the Easy India Company, they forced Bishan to become a monster to survive. They even make him don their drapes after turning Kori before their final battle.
It parallels the time period and real-world setting this book is supposed to take place. The East India Company was only decades from flooding China and parts of India with opium. Like a vampire, they poisoned people to make them more obedient to their greed.
As the East India Company’s colonialism had destroyed the souls of many, the vampires destroyed the souls of Bishan and Kori. Vampires have made Bishan and Kori like them, so much so that by the end of their story, they feel as if they no longer belong in their homeland.
It’s a terrifying thing to see how much damage can be done to a person by someone else’s greed. Now imagine that upon a culture. Art and literature should make you think past the surface-level information you know. What happened to Bishan and Kori is what happened to an entire land of people.
Here, vampires are colonialism given monstrous form, illustrating how people are dehumanized by the thousands. And what is it all for? Greed, money, spices, and riches, are arbitrary things that move nations and remove them as well.
Because Vampires Do Not Die
It’s not a difficult parallel to make between a vampire and a company. They both feast on people, taking what they can to survive. Whether that be their blood or the money and freedom they need to survive.
More than that, they are both a kind of immortal, each without any divinity. They do not age, and they don’t naturally fall apart with time. They can get sick and fall apart if they don’t take care of themselves, but they can live forever by continuing to feast on the people living under them. Vampires and companies grow into things that cannot die of their own accord.
In Bishan’s own words, “The trouble with things that cannot die. They lose the ability to understand when they have outlived their own beauty.”
I’m sure the East India Company at some point was just about shipping and selling products that people wanted, employing those with jobs that fed their families. Maybe even that’s too optimistic. It doesn’t matter, because it became an all-consuming monster, feeding on its own and those around it. It became a monopoly that threatened national borders, with an army large enough to threaten Great Britain itself.
This line of thinking reminds me of how companies still start today. How they start off making good products, with supposedly good intentions before they slowly succumb to greed, and outlive their usefulness.
How fitting to wrap that all into the guise of a vampire. I can’t recommend These Savage Shores enough. Like and subscribe, and let me know in the comments, what’s your favorite horror monster?