Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review: "Shades of Grey"

Jasper Fforde's at it again with Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron (Viking, 2009). This, the first in what looks to be a planned trilogy, introduces us to a new Ffordian world, a dystopian society where color is everything. Since the unexplained long-ago Something that Happened, humans have changed a bit: each person can only see a single color naturally, with all other hues supplied synthetically (an expensive proposition). The world is governed by the Rules, sent down from the High Office and enforced by a network of prefects (those who can perceive red, blue and yellow to the greatest extent). The Rules sometimes make no sense (no new spoons have been manufactured for centuries), but there they are.

Our hero is 20-year old Eddie Russet, a genial fellow trying to make his own way in the world, marry up-color and work for the prestigious National Color department. But when he's temporarily relocated to the provinces to conduct a chair census, he finds himself involved in a series of adolescent hijinx, mysterious goings-on, and a conspiracy which could bring down the entire civilization. Of course he also comes across an irresistible Grey with a cute nose ... but you'll have to read the book to find out about her.

Fforde's capacity for inventive amusement never falters, and the way he parcels out the whys and wherefores of this new world of his worked perfectly - just as I got the point of thinking 'what on earth is this about?', the explanation would fall into place, just on cue. The strange color-based caste system, the bizarre Rules, the odd remnants of past civilizations that make themselves known - layer upon layer of allusion, pun and joke is brilliantly executed.

Somewhat darker and more sinister than most of his other works, but as you'll discover on reading it, there's light at the end of the tunnel. I'll await the next volume with great anticipation and impatience.