Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

fforde(First of all, I hate it that I efficiently wrote this on the airplane on Sunday and today is Wednesday and it’s the first chance I’ve had to efficiently copy and paste my write up here. Gah!)


(coming out in January 2010)

Jasper Fforde’s style is quirky and odd, funny, and richly literary.  Or, if not literary exactly, it assumes its readers are, well, readers.  I loved the Thursday Next books and the enjoyed the Nursery Crime ones as well, and so was delighted to get an advance reading copy of his newest venture, Shades of Grey.  This is apparently the first of three projected novels.  The style was very much like Thursday Next-kind of confusing and nonsensical and you just have to give yourself up to it and go along for the ride. And not try to figure anything out.  Like Thursday Next this is set in an alternate world with crazy societal rules and regulations.  Unlike Thursday Next it is a bit more sinister, a futuristic (but backward) dystopia.

Edward Russett is a Red.  In this world everything is ruled by color.  It forms the basis for a caste system which places greys at the worker bees who are good for nothings, and the reds, blues, and yellows as the highest ups.  A system of merits and demerits rules what people are allowed to do and also controls who might marry whom.  Edward doesn’t expect too much from his life except to hopefully marry Constance Oxblood, which would be a very beneficial match to both of their families.  But then he and his father get sent to East Carmine, which is a settlement near the Outer Fringes.  There Edward meets a Grey, Jane, who opens his eyes to the fact that their chroma-society might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

There are all kinds of weird and wonderful thnigs populating this world: swans that attack people and are feared as vicious beasts, giraffes roaming as freely as feral cats, giant trees that gobble up people like some sort of combination Whomper-Venus Flytrap.

I really enjoyed the wordplay in this, such as the fact that everyone’s surnames are a shade of the color family they are in (Oh and what color you are is determined by what color you can see. That’s right, a Red can see red but not really the other colors.)  The Greys don’t get different surnames other than Grey and some of the characters we meet are Jane, Zane, and Dorian, so that’s pretty funny.  This whole concept of colors being the foundation of the society and some being considered more valuable than others reminded me a bit of Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry.  Another thing about this world is that when night falls everyone stays inside.  To venture into the inky darkness means you will likely succumb to Nightloss and be gone forever.  This terrifying darkness outside the town reminded me very much of City of Ember, by Jean DuPre.  Thinking about these comparisons, as well as other novels I’ve read, it seems that a tool of those in power in any dystopia is Fear.  Fear of the unknown, fear of real or imaginary (but told they are real) threats or creatures, these are the things that keep the masses in line and ignorant.

Overall, a great new venture for Fforde.

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