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Shades of Grey: A Novel Hardcover – December 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
This inventive fantasy from bestseller Fforde (The Eyre Affair) imagines a screwball future in which social castes and protocols are rigidly defined by acuteness of personal color perception. Centuries after the cryptically cataclysmic Something That Happened, a Colortocracy, founded on the inflexible absolutes of the chromatic scale, rules the world. Amiable Eddie Russett, a young Red, is looking forward to marrying a notch up on the palette and settling down to a complacent bourgeois life. But after meeting Jane G-23, a rebellious working-class Grey, and a discredited, invisible historian known as the Apocryphal man, Eddie finds himself questioning the hitherto sacred foundations of the status quo. En route to finding out what turned things topsy-turvy, Eddie navigates a vividly imagined landscape whose every facet is steeped in the author's remarkably detailed color scheme. Sometimes, though, it's hard to see the story for the chromotechnics. 10-city author tour. (Jan.)
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*Starred Review* In Eddie Russett’s world, color is destiny. People’s perceptions of color, once tested, determine their rank in the Colortocracy, with primes ruling “bastard” colors and everyone lording it over the prole-like grays. No one can see more than their own color, and no one knows why—but there are many unknowns ever since Something Happened, followed by the deFacting and successive Great Leaps Backward. Due to an infraction against the Collective’s rule-bound bureaucracy, Eddie is sent to East Carmine, in the Outer Fringes, where manners are shockingly poor, to conduct a monthlong chair census. In short order, he falls in love, runs afoul of the local prefects, learns a terrible secret, and is eaten by a carnivorous tree. This series starter combines the dire warnings of Brave New World and 1984 with the deevolutionary visions of A Canticle for Leibowitz and Riddley Walker, but, Fforde being Fforde, his dystopia includes an abundance of tea shops and a severe shortage of jam varieties. It’s all brilliantly original. If his complex world building sometimes slows the plot and the balance of silly and serious is uneasy, we’re still completely won over. In our own willful myopia, we sorely need the laughs. --Keir Graff
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This book is set in a complicated world that is very different than our own. There are many similarities, but there's also a complicated social hierarchy based on color and several physical traits in people that seem to be unique to this world (also related to how people see color). Details about these differences are revealed gradually throughout the book. I enjoy this, because I like the feeling of putting together a puzzle when reading a book. If you prefer to learn all the important information quickly, you might want to reconsider this book.
Throughout this book, I was constantly blown away, by Jasper Fforde’s inventiveness. I kept thinking, how the heck does he come up with these insane yet fascinating ideas? I mean, ownership of a spoon as a status symbol?! Giant swan Attacks?! Yeah…
If the idea of a well-written dystopian book injected with Douglas Adams-esque absurdities appeals to you, then definitely read it.
The story takes place in a future England, although the names of places and people are not ones we are familiar with. However, reading it, you will find the setting very familiar, but surreally distorted. Take for example, the phenomenon where the politeness of society requires a certain degree of patience combined with creative pretense. If a person cuts in line while you are waiting in a queue, you might ignore it, rather than cause a scene. But if the person is naked, and tries to steal your lunch, would you be able to ignore it? In Shades of Grey, that's exactly what you'd do. In fact, nothing of the sort is happening at all. You simply can't see it., Nothing is there.
I can't say very much more about the kind of thing you'll come across, because this is a book that is best approached with no preconceptions. To get the maximum impact and enjoyment out of it, you should definitely stop reading these reviews, and just take our word for it. It's an entertaining, funny, captivating, and mysterious book, a social commentary that you will enjoy reading. How many newspaper op-ed pieces can we say that about?
Put this book no lower than No. 2 on your "to-read list". You will not regret it.