03 January 2010

Shades of Grey

Huzzah!  My first finished book of the new year.  Jasper Fforde does not disappoint.  Do you want strange worlds but similar to our own?  You got 'em.  Compelling main characters with integrity?  You got 'em.  Strong female characters (and I do mean strong - there's rarely a wuss in the bunch)?  You got 'em.  You want some sly humor?  You got it.  Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron is the first book in his new series, Shades of Grey, and it has everything I want in a Fforde novel.

The world conjured in this series is a little like our own - there's tea, jam, bacon (if the Greys don't eat it all first), team sports, linoleum, forks and knives - but it is also quite different, particularly in respect to color (also, there aren't very many spoons). One's place and path in life is determined by one's ability to see colors in the visible light spectrum; Purples (and Ultraviolets) are upperclass with classes arranged in descending wavelength and Greys (those who see no color) at the bottom of the heap. This is the world of Eddie Russett, sent to East Carmine to conduct a chair census and learn some humility. But the Outer Fringes don't quite follow the Rules like Eddie is used to and he soon finds his well-planned life turned topsy-turvy in only a few days.  He meets Jane, a Grey, and is immediately drawn to her devil-may-care-about-the-Rules attitude.

Shades of Grey is delightful and just what I expected of a Jasper Fforde novel - witty, clever, and absurd - so I was prepared to enjoy Eddie's story as I have all the other Ffordes.  However, there is a darkness to this novel and it goes deeper than the multinational Goliath Corporation of the Thursday Next novels. The dystopian world of Chromatacia is evocative of We, Brave New World, and 1984 with issues of class, self-determination, and freedom at the heart of the story. The suggestion that something unspeakably sinister lurks at the heart of Chromatacia sets the stage for a fantastic story arc to carry through the next two books in the trilogy.  It's very exciting because I started to wonder if Eddie would come out of this first volume in one piece; this is quite a different feeling compared to the Thursday Next series where I am never in doubt as to whether Thursday is going to come out on top. I also greatly enjoyed Fforde's ability to build the world of Chromatacia, making it understandable and believable to the reader, without resorting to stretches of exposition. Shades of Grey has a little something for everyone - action, romance, thrills, yucks - and it's a great book to start off the new year.
For a little "something extra" visit the Jasper Fforde website - click on the "Shades of Grey" graphic to access the special features for Shades of Grey and see what was rolling around Fforde's bean while writing the book.

Current book-in-progress: The Ascent of Money, The Complete Stories, Illness, What are Intellectuals Good For?, and Twitterature
Current knitted item: baby sweater for my new niece
Current movie obsession: The Edge of Love and Maurice (note to self: would you just put My Boy Jack in the DVD player and let it run while you clean the house or something so you can at least say you "watched it"? oy)
Current iTunes loop: Filmspotting #286

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