Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Short Review: The first book in a new series by Fforde, set in a world where people have very limited color perception and live according to strict rules set forth by the Colortocracy. Eddie Russett, our hero, has a strong ability to see red and a plan to marry a upperclass red-perceiving woman. And then everything changes.
Long Review: I’m a fan of Fforde’s Thursday Next series, so I was excited to get into this new universe. I was not disappointed. As is often the case with series set in alternate realities, there is a lot of information to tease through to understand the setting of this book. It’s set in some future Britain, after the “Something That Happened” which left most people able to see only one color if any at all, a great shortage of spoons, and a very strict set of rules. A caste system has developed, wherein socio-economic station is set based on which color a person can see, and at what levels of intensity: those who can see purple are at the top of the ranks, and those who can see only gray must do all of the hardest labor. Eddie Russett, the protagonist, essentially comes from a middle-class family, but knows that his upcoming color perception test will reveal him to have excellent color perception in the red range. He and his father are sent to a town on the outskirts, apparently in Wales, and mayhem ensues when he becomes entranced by a Grey woman with an upturned nose.
I won’t say more about the plot. I will say that John Lee does an excellent job reading the book. He allows a great deal of humor and whimsy to creep into his reading, but he also knows when to keep things serious. His diction and pacing are excellent.
What really entranced me about this book is the world Fforde created. He invents a functioning health care system based on chromatherapy, a bestiary of strange, bar-coded hybrid animals, fascinating technologies, a governmental system and cultural mores–and we know there is more to come. As he did in the Thursday Next series, Fforde picked a few factual concepts to build his foundation on, and then his creativity bloomed. Because he has this foundation of factual content, like the Munsell color system, his fantasies and fancies avoid the ridiculous. But all of it is written with such humor. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.