Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Shades of Grey # 1
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Number of pages: 434
My copy: trade paperback, from Fully Booked
Part social satire, part romance, part revolutionary thriller, Shades of Grey tells of a battle against overwhelming odds. In a society where the ability to see the higher end of the color spectrum denotes a better social standing, Eddie Russet belongs to the low-level House of Red and can see his own color—but no other. The sky, the grass, and everything in between are all just shades of grey, and must be colorized by artificial means.
Eddie’s world wasn’t always like this. There’s evidence of a never-discussed disaster and now, many years later, technology is poor, news sporadic, the notion of change abhorrent, and nighttime is terrifying: no one can see in the dark. Everyone abides by a bizarre regime of rules and regulations, a system of merits and demerits, where punishment can result in permanent expulsion.
Eddie, who works for the Color Control Agency, might well have lived out his rose-tinted life without a hitch. But that changes when he becomes smitten with Jane, a Grey Nightseer from the dark, unlit side of the village. She shows Eddie that all is not well with the world he thinks is just and good. Together, they engage in dangerous revolutionary talk.
Stunningly imaginative, very funny, tightly plotted, and with sly satirical digs at our own society, this novel is for those who loved Thursday Next but want to be transported somewhere equally wild, only darker; a world where the black and white of moral standpoints have been reduced to shades of grey.
* * *
Jasper Fforde is back with a whole new story and a whole new world with lots of color — or sometimes, a lack of it. From Thursday Next, Jurisfiction and SpecOps to Jack Spratt and the Nursery Crime Department, we meet Eddie Russett from Jade-Under-Lime, who’s heading to East Carmine with his father for some Useful Work because he Needs Humility. Yes, all those are capitalized because in Eddie’s world, these things are proper nouns and are a part of their rules, as written in the Word of Munsell.
Eddie just wanted a simple life — he need to earn as much merits as he can, get a good mark on his Ishihara and marry an Oxblood and maybe even become a prefect. But all this changes on the day he and his father, the new Swatchman for East Carmine, saw a Grey parading as a Purple in a paint shop in Vermillion, and he meets Jane, a spunky Grey that he is quickly smitten with.
A lot more things happen after this, and we get to meet a whole lot of new characters that it was almost kind of dizzying. Eddie’s inquisitiveness gets him into a lot more trouble than he thought it would, and before he knew it, he was way beyond the path that he intended to go for, and there’s a lot more to lose now than ever.
Since this was a Jasper Fforde book, I was expecting a very fun read, and it did not disappoint. I loved the little funny quips, the outrageous characters, and the new world that he built up, the one that exists after Something Happened. It was an awesome read, even if it did make me dizzy for a while, and it made me slow down reading — almost like I was reading a classic. It’s just that the world is so new, so different and sometimes so odd that I couldn’t rush reading through it. Unlike Thursday Next’s and Jack Spratt’s whose worlds were almost normal save for the little quirks, this one seemed to operate in an entirely new level. Colourtocracy? Chromogencia (did I get that right)? Pookas? Perpetulite? Attacking swans? Shortage of spoons? Say what?!
I liked it a lot, but I think there was so much world building that was done that I finished the book with a whole lot of questions in the story. But that’s why it’s a trilogy — I’m guessing more will be written about Eddie and Jane and their plans in the next book. Oh, and don’t get me wrong — the book is funny but it touches a lot of political and social issues, all done in satire. There’s the corrupt and power hungry Prefects, racism by colors, and the lack of choices based on how the people were classified. It’s funny, interesting, but it’s also kind of sad to see that they have to live that way: Greys are workers while Purples are honored so much that it’s almost crazy.
The characters did not disappoint, too. Eddie’s a sweet protagonist who’s somewhat confused at first but has a lot of courage inside him. Jane is an excellent female protagonist, and I can’t wait to read more of her. :) There’s also the scheming Tommo who’d bargain anything for you, the cunning Courtland who is such a bully that I wanted to beat him up, and the Apocryphal Man, who is invisible most of the time but will give you answers in exchange for loganberry jam. You’d also get to learn a whole lot of names for the different colors — some of them I didn’t even know existed! — like Gamboge, Cinnabar, Ochre. :)
I can’t wait to see what happens next, but there’s no news on when that will be out, so it might take a while. ;)