Review: Shades of Grey

Review: Shades of GreyShades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Series: Shades of Grey #1
Published by Viking Adult on December 29, 2009
Genres: Dystopian, Humor, Mystery
Pages: 390
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

From the bestselling author of Thursday Next—a brilliant new novel about a world where social order and destiny are dictated by the colors you can see 

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 lovedThursday 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.

Fforde tackles a dystopia with the same flair for the absurd that colors (punned!) his previous works. In Shades of Grey, as with the Thursday Next books, the best parts are the little details, the references and the one liners. The frame of the novel is patently nonsensical. Just accept it and enjoy the delightful tidbits along the way.

Eddie is a likable enough main character, if a bit boring. Jane, the grey (thus colorless) who has caught his fancy, however, is fantastic: rude, mocking and sarcastic. In general, a hoot. In fact, she is a bit like me, only much more violent and determined to make a difference. Her ides of romance is one I can totally agree with: “‘You may have noticed I have a temper, [Jane] said, ‘but when I calmed down, I realized that this world, blighted and imperfect as it is, would be better with you in it.'” Now that’s romance!

For any book lovers or librarians out there (and who else would be drawn to this book, really?), the chapter about the Unlibrary is a definite highlight. So too are the silly rules by which the society is governed, such as the fact that the production of spoons is forbidden. Each chapter begins with a new rule, so make sure to watch out for those. Many of them made me giggle.

Shades of Grey is definitely a bit clunky in places and feels a bit long at times, but was overall quite a fun read. The ending was a bit disheartening, but I suppose I cannot complain about that what with it being a dystopia and all. Still, that was easy to forget and I wanted a slightly happier conclusion. If you enjoy absurdist humor, Fforde is an author not to be missed.

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