Book Review: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

shades of grey

Book Summary

From Goodreads: 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.

Review: 4 out of 5 Stars

If you enjoy cleverly-written, tongue-in-cheek, intelligent fantasy, you really must read something written by Jasper Fforde.  While Fforde is probably best known for his Thursday Next series, which is also excellent, Shades of Grey was his first entry into the world of YA.  This was swiftly followed by his next YA series, The Last Dragonslayer, which I ALSO really loved. This is becoming a pattern with me and Fforde, as you can see.

Shades of Grey is a really engaging dystopian written in Fforde’s usual nonsensical style. In this world, people are divided in a very strict caste system based on the hues they are able to see, governed by the Colortocracy.  When a person comes of age, they are permitted to take a test that evaluates what colors you can see and how well.  Both the color spectrum you can see as well as the strength of the hue provide your lot in life.  Everything from the person you are able to marry to the job you are able to perform is defined through this test.  Fforde makes clear that this society has come directly from the society we live in now, though how this major change came about is not immediately clear. There are many references to our present world, and through these Fforde manages a few tongue-in-cheek jabs at our society.

As with so many Fforde novels, Shades of Grey is utterly confusing at first, because the world is never built through info-dump, but through tantalizing clues throughout the novel. And yet somehow, it works.  You find yourself building the world in your mind as you go as then, snap, the final piece falls into place on the very last page and it all comes together. The world was immense and clearly developed. And because it was based entirely on a color-based ranking system, the entire novel was just so visual, making it a very interesting reading experience.

Another Fforde hallmark is a somewhat stilted cadance and flow to the dialogue.  The characters speak in stilted ways and it does take a few chapters to get completely used to the flow of the novel.  That said, I loved the characters in this novel, even though few of them were actually likeable. I particuarly enjoyed Eddie’s character development as he goes from a sort of goody-two-shoes to uncovering the various flaws inherent in his world.

My only sadness is that the rest of the trilogy is not yet out.  I am comforted by the high re-read potential this novel has and I look forward to pulling it back off the shelf very soon.

Bottom Line

This novel is yet another example of Fforde doing what he does best — writes these impossibly possible novels that stick with you long after the book is over. Highly recommended.