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    Review of SHADES OF GREY by Jasper Fforde


    Viking, December 2009

    Some time in the future, humanity has changed. People have lost the ability to see all colors and are socially ranked by their color perceptions (purples and yellows are on top, greys, those with no color perception, end up doing all of the work). Technologies are purposely lost, with useful tools and techniques banned apparently randomly. The teachings of a crackpot prophet named Munsell regulated everything from the wearing of ties (required), to marriage (complementary colors are strictly forbidden to marry), to allowed products (as spoons were somehow left off the list there is a dramatic spoon shortage in this brave new world).

    Convicted of being a trouble-maker, Eddie Russett is sent to conduct a chair survey in a remote region. He wants nothing but to do his job and head back home where he has high hopes for an advantageous marriage with another Red--one that may result in highly color-sensitive children. But when he meets Jane Grey with her amazing nose, his world is turned upside down. Jane doesn't follow the rules, doesn't worry about the demerits her rudeness creates, isn't averse to beating up anyone who questions her, and just might be connected to some impossible mysteries.

    The longer Eddie stays in the remote regions, the more he questions the rules that have always formed his life. And the more he questions the rules, the more trouble he gets into--until he's in danger of not having enough merit to escape the 'reboot.' But a scouting trip to High Saffron is proposed as the solution: he can earn enough merits that way to pay off his debts and perhaps open up a spot in the Colorman organization. There is a small problem, however--in the past couple of centuries, nobody has returned from High Saffron.

    Author Jasper Fforde (see more reviews of SF/Fantasy by Fforde) creates an imaginative future world where obedience to the rules becomes the all-consuming passion, where a mysterious 'rot' threatens to break out at any time, where injuries can be healed by looking at certain colors, and where mysterious secrets must be protected at all cost. I'm a huge fan of Fforde and pushed SHADES OF GREY ahead of the other books on my list as soon as I picked it up. So, how did it rate? Well, I enjoyed it a lot. Fforde obviously worked hard on this book, creating a consistent and semi-believable world based on coloration, embedding a message I doubt that either fans of Mao (Great Leap-backs) or Conservatives (color-centric and rule-following) will enjoy. For the first half the book, I found Eddie a bit too stupid, but I think that was part of Fforde's concept. Jane, in contrast, was perhaps too perfect--I would have liked to learn a bit more about how she discovered the ancient technologies she had access to, and about the open-eyed humans living outside the Chromatacia. Fforde is reaching higher with SHADES OF GREY than he did with his Thursday Next or Nursery Crime series. I'm not sure he completely succeeded, but it's a powerful effort. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in this new series.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 3/28/10

    Buy Shades of Grey: A Novel from Amazon

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