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Shades of Grey

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Hundreds of years in the future, the world is an alarmingly different place. Life is lived according to The Rulebook and social hierarchy is determined by your perception of colour.

Eddie Russett is an above-average Red who dreams of moving up the ladder. Until he is sent to the Outer Fringes where he meets Jane - a lowly Grey with an uncontrollable temper and a desire to see him killed.

For Eddie, it's love at first sight. But his infatuation will lead him to discover that all is not as it seems in a world where everything that looks black and white is really shades of grey...

390 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Jasper Fforde

52 books11.7k followers
Fforde began his career in the film industry, and for nineteen years held a variety of posts on such movies as Goldeneye, The Mask of Zorro and Entrapment. Secretly harbouring a desire to tell his own stories rather than help other people tell their's, Jasper started writing in 1988, and spent eleven years secretly writing novel after novel as he strove to find a style of his own that was a no-mans-land somewhere between the warring factions of Literary and Absurd.

After receiving 76 rejection letters from publishers, Jasper's first novel The Eyre Affair was taken on by Hodder & Stoughton and published in July 2001. Set in 1985 in a world that is similar to our own, but with a few crucial - and bizarre - differences (Wales is a socialist republic, the Crimean War is still ongoing and the most popular pets are home-cloned dodos), The Eyre Affair introduces literary detective named 'Thursday Next'. Thursday's job includes spotting forgeries of Shakespeare's lost plays, mending holes in narrative plot lines, and rescuing characters who have been kidnapped from literary masterpieces.

Luckily for Jasper, the novel garnered dozens of effusive reviews, and received high praise from the press, from booksellers and readers throughout the UK. In the US The Eyre Affair was also an instant hit, entering the New York Times Bestseller List in its first week of publication.

Since then, Jasper has added another six to the Thursday Next series and has also begun a second series that he calls 'Nursery Crime', featuring Jack Spratt of The Nursery Crime Division. In the first book, 'The Big Over Easy', Humpty Dumpty is the victim in a whodunnit, and in the second, 'The Fourth Bear', the Three Bear's connection to Goldilocks disappearance can finally be revealed.

In January 2010 Fforde published 'Shades of Grey', in which a fragmented society struggle to survive in a colour-obsessed post-apocalyptic landscape.

His latest series is for Young Adults and include 'The Last Dragonslayer' (2010), 'Song of the Quarkbeast' (2011) and 'The Eye of Zoltar' (2013). All the books centre around Jennifer Strange, who manages a company of magicians named 'Kazam', and her attempts to keep the noble arts from the clutches of big business and property tycoons.

Jasper's 14th Book, 'Early Riser', a thriller set in a world in which humans have always hibernated, is due out in the UK in August 2018, and in the US in 2019.

Fforde failed his Welsh Nationality Test by erroneously identifying Gavin Henson as a TV chef, but continues to live and work in his adopted nation despite this setback. He has a Welsh wife, two welsh daughters and a welsh dog, who is mad but not because he's Welsh. He has a passion for movies, photographs, and aviation. (Jasper, not the dog)

* Thursday Next
* Nursery Crime
* Shades of Grey

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5 stars
15,211 (42%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,509 reviews
Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 88 books231k followers
March 2, 2015
I listened to this as an audiobook just recently, and I was absolutely blown away by it.

That said, I don’t know how I’d describe the entirety of it to someone. If I were to summarize it, it would sound... well... kinda dumb.

Let me say this instead: It’s funny without being goofy. It’s clever without being pretentious. It’s original without being desperate. Its mysterious without being willfully obtuse.

Best of all, this story has an element of what I think of as divine ridiculousness: a delightful, subtle, strangeness that is funny while still touching on some underlying truth.

In fantasy, we have the ability to write about anything. This is the blessing of the genre as well as being its most insidious trap. You can write about Dragon Ninjas. And they can fly spaceships. That's okay. Our genre can handle it.

The problem is that you can get lost in that endless realm of possibility. You read a book with hundred foot tall giants, and you think, "Wow. That's awesome!" Then you go out to write something even cooler: A book with 200 foot tall giants who can fly and breathe fire.

But bigger isn't always better. In fact, bigger is only very occasionally better. Gandalf wasn't constantly calling down fire and lightning and he was cool as hell.

The odd truth is this: In fantasy, Less is More. It's the Chocolate Chip in your cookie. Yes, it's delicious. But you can't have a cookie that's *all* chocolate chip. It just doesn't work.

This book is a great example of that. It's a great example of how fantasy can be brilliant and marvelous and strange and compelling without clashing armies, maniacal wizards, or fire breathing dragons.

I feel like I should say more about it, but I can’t think of what else to say. Except, perhaps, that it’s probably the best book I’ve read in a year or so. And Sarah really liked it too, if that sways you at all…
Profile Image for Heidi.
26 reviews
July 14, 2012
A happy accident... my book club was reading "50 Shades of Gray," and it just so happens that I missed the gathering (sorry, gals!) where this was chosen. With that "50" left off the title and another incarnation of "gray" (specifically "grey"), I requested the wrong book from the library.

I'm so very happy I did. It's probably one of THE most imaginative books I've read in a very long while. I enjoyed it immensely. I completely expected to despise the reading experience as it's a dystopian read. I'm not a fan of the dystopian genre. Fforde's book is the exception to my rule. I suspect his plentiful humor played largely into making the experience a pleasant one. Most dystopian books are missing humor. I suspect if humor was a common thread in this genre, though, I might have another opinion on it.

Maybe all you "50 Shades of Gray" readers were reading the wrong book. Maaaaaybe you should've read this one instead.

Profile Image for mark monday.
1,643 reviews5,092 followers
October 28, 2011
the world of Shades of Grey is a nightmarish dystopia: a ruthless totalitarian regime that destroys all individualistic spirit, all creativity and ambiguity and questioning of authority; a monstrous government that divides its citizens into color-stratified class/caste systems that is based upon the inherent physical deficiencies of its populace; a place with no love and where death is the end result for the underdog and misfit.

sounds pretty bleak, right? well, dear reader, think again! this rather amazing novel is as light and airy as a souffle, a real pleasure to consume from beginning to end. i was smiling constantly and laughing out loud nearly as often. the tone is brisk and drily amusing. the plot and the various details of our young hero's travails are wonderfully absurd: the punishment for his past cheekiness is to conduct a "Chair Census"; he must beware deadly carnivorous swans and "mega-fauna"; his greatest ambition is to be the head of a String Factory! upstairs from him and his dad lives the "Apocryphal Man" - an historian the state has deemed 'does not exist', and so is free to wander around naked, stealing food, muttering terrifying truths yet remaining unmolested. the love of his life is mean Jane - a Grey, the lowest caste - a rebel with a cause who does not hesitate to punish him drastically and physically whenever he gets in her way.

the writing itself is splendid. Fforde is a deadpan and satirical author with a perfect grasp of what to show, what to tell, what to keep hidden, and what to save for an exciting climax. i was reminded of a couple things when reading this book: the equally absurd and distinctly provincial post-apocalyptic settings of Dick's Dr. Bloodmoney and especially the delightful skewerings of english village life within the Mapp & Lucia series of E.F. Benson. much like the latter, the humor within Shades of Grey is derived almost entirely from the Comedy of Manners.

a Post-Apocalyptic Comedy of Manners set within a Provincial Dystopic Colortocracy! how's that for original?

best of all, for me at least, this wonderful novel does not have a genuinely cynical bone in its body. yes, it skewers hypocrisy and stupidity in the most cutting way. yes, it is about a vicious, cruel future. but it also believes in investing its hero and heroine with the power to change themselves, to fall in love, to try to bravely risk changing the world around them. and it portrays all of the good and all of the bad with the lightest, most charming of touches.

i am really looking forward to the sequel!
Profile Image for Candace Burton.
65 reviews12 followers
August 2, 2011
Don't read this book. Seriously. Wait until nos. 2 & 3 in the projected series have come out, then take yourself off to a beach or a comfy sofa somewhere for the weekend and just blow through them all in one great binge, because it will take so much concentration and devotion to keep up with the stunning intricacies of Fforde's latest that it's wasted effort not to just immerse for a bit. Trust me, I've read everything he's written, and despite my usual sense of trepidation when faced with a new tome, I am inevitably swept completely away to the point of being irked when something silly like dinner or the need for sleep interferes with my reading. Eddie Russett is the main character in this venture, a character embedded in the unbelievably complex world of Chromatacia--a version of our world that is something like a cross between Ayn Rand's Anthem and the opening sequences of the Wizard of Oz. (Seriously.) In short, it's all about what you can see--and who knows that you can see it. Fforde's years in the film industry have clearly served him well--I can't exactly work out what his writing process must be like to enable him to fully, convincingly create worlds that function completely by their own set of norms, but I hope he can keep it up.
5 reviews3 followers
September 7, 2011
Surely, there's more to writing a book than simply having a good idea?

This book is based on a good idea, but it reads like it was written by a computer programme and commissioned by that bloke in Marketing who seems to have a new car every other month.

It's so damn clunky. The sentences are twistier than a twisty thing, the narrative structure was arrived at using one of those foldy-paper-fingers-things and the jokes were designed by the same committee that came up with the camel. And Fforde must have been slapped, ironically, with the Adverb Stick when he was a baby.

Whatever happened to editors? Is Jasper Fforde now so successful that like, say, Stephen King, no-one dare tell him to hold on a minute? Or has the BBC Newsroom's evil plot finally succeeded, and they've all been banished to Out-of-Date Camp?

Of course, what do I know? I've never flogged a half-decent idea to within an inch of its functional credibility, nor approached the lower part of a wooden storage device with a spatula. But I do know the difference between a Concept and a Book.

Could the angry mob please now form an orderly queue...
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
September 7, 2010
5.0 stars. Another superb novel by one of the best writers "that not everybody reads" working in speculative fiction. I am continually impressed by Fforde's imagination, writing and his supreme talent for incorporating both well known and obscure references to literature and pop culture.

With this novel, Fforde begins a new series based in a future world that arose from the ashes of ours and in which every person's status in society is based on the portion of color spectrum that they can see. Throw in such off the wall details like "giant swan attacks", a Rule against using the number between 72 and 74 and how ownership of a spoon is a status symbol. It is smart, funny and very well written. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!
Profile Image for Joel.
554 reviews1,621 followers
March 7, 2010
I've been on a dystopian kick over the last several months, and it was interesting to read this one so soon after Brave New World; Jasper Fforde offers up some similar ideas but approaches the concept of a totalitarian future society from the same skewed perspective he brought to the Thursday Next series.

That said, I didn't always find this a fun read. I might blame it on fatigue, but I found the first half of this one really slow going. It takes Fforde a long time to set up his world, slowly revealing how the different colors people see influences their standing in society and the way the government functions as a whole. After 200 pages of largely plotless world-building, I was begging for some lazy, blatant exposition, if only to get the story moving.

The plot finally does kick in, and the last 100 pages or so provide a pretty satisfying setup for the two sequels advertised on the last page, and I expect those books will go a lot more smoothly with the heavy lifting out of the way.
Profile Image for Deb.
278 reviews6 followers
February 20, 2015
Fforde is a satiric word-weaver and I always look forward to reading whatever he pumps out. Thursday Next is my literary hero, and while the Nursery Crime books weren't up to snuff, they weren't bad--just not as interesting as a dashing, cheese-smuggling book jumper.

Shades of Grey is the beginning of a new dystopian trilogy situated in Chromatocia, a world ruled by the Colortocracy where color perception has faded and social hierarchy is determined by what colors you can see. Edward Russet, the narrator, is sent to the Outer Fringes to survey the ratio of chairs to citizens as punishment for a mischievous prank. He quickly discovers that the inviolate rules his society is based on are written on "rubber paper" at times, and that his formerly-rigid acceptance leads to people in high places getting pretty peeved at him. Enough to commit...murder?

Russet meets Jane Grey, a servant with a cute nose (mention its cuteness at the risk of having your eyebrows ripped off) who has anti-Colortocracy leanings and is designated for Reboot, where all unruly citizens go for re-education and re-assignment. Although Russet is already half-engaged to a cold fish back at home, he promptly falls in love with Grey--despite that she threatens to break his jaw or leg and likes to feed him to carnivorous plants whenever convenient.

The bildungsroman element in the book comes to a head near the end, with a quest and a test that lead to more questions than they answer.

There is one All-Important Question that will be answered by the end of the book:
Where have all the spoons gone?

This novel was a slow read at first--Fforde takes time to craft his universes but tends to set his readers down in the middle of things at the beginning, so it took a bit to soak up enough information before the Colortocracy organization made sense. Once everything clicked, though, I couldn't put the book down. The final pages were all action and social un-niceties, the kind of whirlwind ending that makes you long for the sequel in your hands so you can keep the story going and won't have to stop for a year or so. Ah well. Re-reading potential: high!

A sneak peak from one of the last pages:
Volume 2 will be titled Painting by Numbers
Volume 3 will be Gordini Protocols

No word yet on when Painting by Numbers will be released, but a prequel titled 7 Things to do before you die in Talgarth was announced November 2014 on Fforde's Next Book page.
Profile Image for Priscilla.
146 reviews9,730 followers
January 26, 2012
AHHH. SO GOOD. By the end, I just wanted to jump to the next book!

Initial thoughts:
1. Wow! What a world. Jasper Fforde creates an imaginative, interesting, and complex dystopia society where what you see determines who you are. I loved the rules, and the process in which Fforde guides you through this odd futuristic society. SO COOL!
2. Pacing is slow throughout most of the book (until the end). Fforde slowly unravels the secrets and corruption behind this society, and it's up to our main character Eddie to decide whether he will make the easy choice or the right one.
3. The writing is brilliant! I can say for sure my vocabulary count has increased.
4. The ending is amazing! Seriously made this jump from a 3-4 star book to a 5 star for me.
5. Totally geeked out over the colour references. It's a graphic designer thing. :/

Check out my video review here!
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Plant Based Bride).
410 reviews3,736 followers
April 11, 2023
"I didn't set out to discover a truth. I was actually sent to the Outer Fringes to conduct a chair census and learn some humility. But the truth inevitably found me, as important truths often do, like a lost thought in need of a mind."

Shades of Grey was strange, eccentric, and confusing at times but also so much fun! Packed to the brim with incredibly imaginative worldbuilding, immersive, vivid, and quirky characters, and deeper themes of conformity and classism, all tied together into an overarching commentary on flawed communism-adjacent societal structuring, including shared resources and strict rules of conduct used for the benefit of those at the top of the social hierarchy and not truly for the benefit of all people.

I loved that the worldbuilding was slowly incorporated through the story in sprinklings here and there, never info dumped. The concept of a society built on the ability of its people to see colour is such a creative one, and I very much enjoyed how well thought out all of the ramifications of that core idea through the structure of society were, from their values and jobs to the way they view and handle relationships.

Eddie was a hilarious protagonist to follow, and while he was by no means perfect, he certainly was endearing in his bumbling earnestness. Jane was an excellent foil for him and a fantastic character in her own right.

If you enjoy dystopian fiction with a more light-hearted and humourous tone, I'd highly recommend Shades of Grey! I'm very excited to read the sequel, which is apparently coming out next year.

"Edward, Edward," he said with a patronising smile, "there are no unanswered questions of any relevance. Every question that we need to ask has been answered fully. If you can't find the correct answer then you are obviously asking the wrong question."

Trigger/Content Warnings: murder, death, violence, mild gore, forced labour

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Profile Image for Lata.
3,589 reviews191 followers
February 11, 2018
This is my second attempt to read this book. I think I struggled my first time as I think I expected something kind of silly like the Thursday Next or the Nursery Crime series. While this book certainly has a number of silly elements, this is also a book I found had an underlying sense of dread and real mystery. Mystery as we’re never told by the author what happened to the world, just that the characters live in a place post-Epiphany, as they call it. Their world is heavily stratified by colour. Each character has a colour last name and can only see colours in that colour family (e.g., red, russet and others in the red family). Also, while surrounded by the detritus of a pre-Epiphany world, the characters are largely ignorant of the meanings and use of these items, and have a limited education system as well, reinforcing the ignorance. There is so much terrific detail about the chromatic hierarchy, and the nasty beliefs about those below one's strata or outside the colour strata, and many other things, like spoons, that make a many layered background to this story. And the author covers a lot of this before the action really gets going in the story.
Main character Eddie Russet and his father Holden have arrived in East Carmine for a month. Eddie has a nonsensical task to complete while in the town (there is much that is nonsensical and ridiculous about all the characters’ lives and habits.) Eddie quickly becomes acquainted with Tommo, a con man, the Yellow Prefect’s bully son Cortland, and Jane, a Grey, whom Eddie is fascinated with, despite Jane’s verbal and physical propensity for violence. Eddie also is half-promised to Constance Oxblood in marriage in his hometown. (Members in each strata must marry at least within their class, though would love to marry above, provided the colours are not complementary.) Regardless, he remains fascinated with Jane, and becomes involved with activities in the town.
The whole time, the author builds the mystery and some dread, as odd happenings occur, and questions are actively discouraged. And while there are little moments of humour, this isn’t a particularly humorous story. There are bad things happening in the town and in the society, and Jasper Fforde takes much of the almost 400-page story to explain, and then the book ends. There is so much left to happen, and I’m not sure when the author will provide another instalment.
One other thing: I listened to the audiobook; John Lee narrates, and I kept expecting him to say “Breach!” as I was reminded of bits of China Mieville’s “The City and the City” while listening to this book.
Profile Image for Ferdy.
944 reviews1,107 followers
July 24, 2013
2.5 stars - Spoilers

Good but also bad, really really bad. So yea, I liked it but I also hated it.

-I didn't know what the fuck was going on for the most part. It was such a weird dystopian world. I mean, how can colour perception be that bloody important?! And how did the human eye 'evolve' so that people could only see 1 or 2 colours? It made very little sense. I admit that it was an interesting concept but none of it was remotely believable.
I was lost as soon as I started, nothing was explained, and it was all so nonsensical — the worldbuilding was executed in such a piss poor way. The structure, rules and history of the world did slowly become clearer but it took way too much time to get to that point. Even when I did get an idea of what was what, there was still so much of the world and its rules that were incomprehensible.

-There were aspects of Shades of Grey that were enjoyable and humourous but a lot of it was bullshit. I did to some extent quite like the originality, and strangeness of a world which consisted of a hierarchy that depended on one's perception of colour.
It would have been easier if there'd been a little index/summary or whatever at the beginning which listed the hierarchy of the colours, and the different roles in society and other things like that.

-Even though the dystopian world was unique in a way, it was also kind of unoriginal. There was a strict government with silly rules, there were government officials/leaders with all the power, there were corrupt people in the totalitarian government, there were people at the bottom (the greys) that were treated poorly, there were secrets, there were suspicious deaths, there were hints of an uprising — so yea, it was a pretty standard dystopia in a way.

-A lot of times I felt that the bizarre and nonsensical world was weird just for the sake of being weird. It all felt too forced and overall not very well thought out.

-The characters were decent enough apart from the main character, Eddie, he was kind of boring. His obsession with Jane was irritating — he bumped into her once and she was rude to him, but he couldn't stop thinking about her. Also, the way he kept banging on about her nose was annoying as hell. Eddie was plain dull — he was definitely overshadowed by all the different elements of his world.

-The first two-thirds was really slow, hardly anything happened. For the most part I kept wondering where the storyline was. Eddie and his dad moved to a new place (East Carmine), various secondary characters were introduced, there was some gossip, and a load of wacky rules were thrown about — all of it felt drawn out and pointless. There was a kind of mystery with a dead guy, and Jane's connection to said dead guy — but for the most part that was in the background, it was only towards the end where that arc got some momentum. For the most part I felt as if I was reading pure nonsense.

-Jane to a certain extent was interesting, but only because she had loads of secrets, and I wanted to know what she was up to.

-There were quite a few hilarious scenes like the Apocryphal man at dinner, the hockeyball match, and the library scene. They were all brilliant. Also, the whole spoon shortage and desire for spoons was weirdly wonderful. And the radiator morse code at night, the arranged marriages, and getting high on colours were nice touches.

-I loved Violet, Lucy, Sally Gamboge and Yewberry, they were great secondary characters.
Violet was a crazy cow — the way she manipulated and tried to control Eddie at the end was highly entertaining. Lucy was a bit of an oddball character, I'm hoping she doesn't end up with Tommo. Sally was an evul cow, and Yewberry was a bastard but they were both fun to read about.

-I hated Tommo the most. He was a dick — he was such a horrible friend to Eddie. I hope he gets his comeuppance in the sequels.

-The trip to High Saffron was a bit of an anti-climax. I was expecting more action and revelations but it was so dragged out and underwhelming.

-I hope Jane and Eddie don't end up together. Eddie got married to Violet and they're having a baby together, it'll be really distasteful if he leaves his wife and baby for Jane. Also, it'll be cheesy for them to end up together because of them being all forbidden because of their complementary colour status. Eddie should stay in his miserable marriage, and Jane should get on with her own life.

-I was really pissed that Eddie condemned Imogen and Dorian to death at the end, they were the only truly likeable characters.

All in all, I kind of liked it at times, but for the most part I was frustrated and annoyed. The characters were all strong (apart from Eddie), but the story was all over the place, and the worldbuilding was a mess, though by the end it did manage to sort itself out. I'll probably read the sequel as it'll no doubt be easier to appreciate the rich world.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews656 followers
July 10, 2014
Shades of Grey is an unexpectedly devastating book. Funny as hell, yes, but with a creeping sense of horrors lurking just beneath the surface, and when they strike, well, they were even more awful than I'd been anticipating.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Aphie.
160 reviews15 followers
September 16, 2010
This is Jasper Fforde.
That means it's silly, not necessarily groundbreaking, but certainly satirical, dark-edged, referential and post-modern in ways that will only work if you're capable of tripping lightly along in his wake, enjoying the view and grinning wryly at the social commentary and broader themes he's sketching on the horizon for you.

I always find the start of a new Fforde novel a bit like that first dive into cold water on a warm day. It's shocking and disorientating, especially at first, so you just have to close your eyes, keep going, and soon you find you're getting along so well in this new environment that you feel comfortable with it, even with those shadowy depths beneath you that you do not yet know anything about, and may never know. Like those watery spaces filled with possible fish, Fforde always conveys a sense of a fully realised world ticking away behind the main action and that's certainly true in the whimsical, frightening world of Eddie Russett, when he find himself confronted by a man who's wrong-spotted, somewhere in the middle of a plot that turns out to involve the government and society as a whole. As Eddie stumbles about uncovering more of the truth about his world, we're dragged along too, catching the same puzzle-pieced conversations and bits of information about just what's going on.

Fforde does tend towards stereotypes as support characters, but his dyads of protagonists do include tough, nuanced and interesting women, which always works for me, too. Jane is no exception, and the relationship between her and Eddie owes a lot to the noir genre, where the woman holds the knowledge necessary for the clueless male to fully realise what's going on. I enjoy this, though I think the characterisation worked better when we were viewing the story from the woman's perspective (as in Thursday Next's arc) rather than as a guy seeing a woman as (yet again) a total cypher.
Profile Image for Vonia.
611 reviews97 followers
April 10, 2021
Shades of Grey (2009) by Jasper Fforde
Finished Reading: 4/1/19
Rating: 5/5

{Clue: Complementary colors are absolutely forbidden to ever perform this romantic act}

Made perfect sense that author Jasper Fforde worked for years in the film industry- his aptitude for vividly painting pictures and scenes through words; the imagination, creativity, and ingenuity that he articulates is remarkable.

Argot used in Chromatica is delightfully innovative and unique- where the “Previous” once lived, before the “Something That Happened"; the aptly named Apocryphal man the only one that was alive then and has many wise answers in life- governed by the onerous National Colour in a dystopian Colortocracy and by the hilariously nitpicky “World of Munsell” (real life painter and creator of the eponymous Munsell Color System) Rule Book (Random favorites: “Team sorts are mandatory in order to build character. Character is there to give purpose to team sports; Anyone above 50% receptive is given the designation “Chromogentsia" and is eligible for such privileges as listed in Appendix D); accurately uses the HSV color system; the color vision and thus caste-rank-determining test for all citizens is called the Ishihara (tribute to Shinobu Ishihara, creator of his eponymous test used by the Navy and optometrists everywhere); where there are color gardens and hues are rationed into the sectors by pipes; where everyone and everything from flowers and food to animals and humans have barcodes; where spoons represent someone's soul, inordinately valuable, and their production illegal; Doctors are known as Chromaticologists and Swatchmen, as color healers they shoot specific hues into your eyes like defibrillators; where citizens may not even realize the degree to which they are trapped by government manipulated fear, with frequent lightning storms, outsiders to beware are known as Riffraff, and violent swan attacks are a regular thing; no one can or is allowed to see in the dark except for the ever secretive elite Nightseers; citizens live for “feedback scores" (like social media today) and “merits” which are bartered for privileges and favors from others and under 1000 or so will have you sent to Reboot (restart, but actually death).

Relatable characters (Eddie Russett), along with others that readers will grow to love despite their ostensible negative traits (Jane G23, Tommo Cinnabar, maybe even Courtland), and a supporting cast of literally colorful characters (DeMauve, Canary, Fandango, Lapis-Lazuli); even the names of the cities and districts are color-themed (Jade, Saffron, Carmine)!

Rarely does one find a book so aptly paced, with moments of magnified tension, suspense, laughter, romantic fizziness, and pure pleasure at reading the puns, scintillating dialogue, wittiness, and wordplay used.

Yet, making my all-time-favorites list only leaves one last question: How much longer for “Shades of Grey #2: Painting by Numbers” (announced in 2009) Mister Fforde?

Acrostic is a form of poetry where the first letters in each line, paragraph, or word are doubly used to spell a name, phrase, or word. The word "acrostic" comes from the Greek words "akros" (outermost) and "stichos" (line of verse). Read the appropriate letters in the poem vertically to reveal the extra message, called the "acrostich"!
#Acrostic #PoemReview #colors #fantasy #series

Further Reading: http://www.jasperfforde.com/grey/grey... (One of the best websites devoted to a book- personally seen to by the author; a colorful, themed world where you can relive Shades of Grey again and again.)
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,759 reviews1,218 followers
January 15, 2010
This is one of those books that’s most enjoyable to read when you come to it knowing not too much. So, I’ll say just three specific things: 1. Spoons!!! Very amusing for me given that except for a few exceptions such as salads, I use spoons to eat everything not to be eaten with my hands, 2. I’m going to be very aware if I use the phrase “you know” and will try to avoid doing so, 3. page 79: The Little Engine That Could bit was extremely amusing. (If you haven’t yet read this book, don’t worry if the above makes no sense to you.)

Ha! Brilliant and very funny, the most (deliberately) comical dystopian novel I’ve read, especially given that this is a very, very dark society. The story is both chilling and hilarious.

The best science fiction has profound things to say about our current society, and this story certainly does it well.

The society in this book might very well be the most creatively constructed dystopian society ever. The language, the words used/created are perfect and they’re exactly how people from this society would phrase things.

I’m very visually oriented and I found the premise of this book fascinating. Readers may never again look at color in quite the same way.

The creativity quotient is high and was the deciding factor for me to assign 5 vs. 4 stars.

This looks as though it’s going to be at least a trilogy. The next two in the series will be titled Shades of Grey 2: Painting by Numbers & Shades of Grey 3: The Gordini Protocols.
Profile Image for Melissa McShane.
Author 60 books744 followers
April 9, 2022
Re-read 2/26/22: Not much to add, except I bought a hardcover copy of this to replace the paperback because I want the books I re-read to be sturdy and hold up under extended use, and I happened to glance at the end and saw what I'd forgotten: there are two titles listed as sequels. I am not going to castigate Fforde for not publishing (maybe not writing yet?) these books, but these little details screw my curiosity about why not nearly to the breaking point. I still have hope that we will eventually get the rest of the story (in fact, I saw somewhere that the second book is on the horizon, in which case Yay!).

Re-read as audiobook, 2/10/19: This is still one of my very favorite books, but now I wonder why I like it--why anyone likes it--given that the ending is so very not happy. I think it's because Fforde has a gift for finding moments that, while bleak, promise that everything will work out, and that's how I feel about the ending. I still feel that way even as it looks increasingly unlikely that Fforde will ever continue the series. This is a book well worth reading.

Read 12/28/16: One of my very favorite books, full of Jasper Fforde's trademark insanity. In a world where people's ability to see color is both limited and a mark of social status, Eddie Russett is trapped by the conventions of his society (which is a sort of Victorian/Edwardian mashup, and very fun) and the fact that he's easily led by everyone around him. He meets a girl named Jane, a Grey (entirely achromatic) (and yes, Fforde did go there: some other Greys are named Zane and Dorian) whose brash and violent behavior is so atypical for the bottom-of-the-social-ladder Greys that he's drawn to her.

This is the point where I can't explain any more of the plot without just retelling the story, but Eddie's journey takes him from being a sort of Arthur Dent semi-hero to someone who takes control of his life and becomes a force who intends, with Jane, I have been anxiously waiting for a sequel to this book ever since it was published, and much as I like The Last Dragonslayer, I admit to feeling some resentment that it is not that long-desired sequel.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
350 reviews9 followers
March 2, 2011
Jasper Fforde has a hit with this new series. I have had his "Thursday Next" series on my to-read list forever but the first in this new series popped up at the library so I thought I'd give it a shot. And I am so glad I did!

In this world, the lives of the people are defined by their ability to perceive color. Each person in the Collective is subject the "Ishihara test" upon turning 20 years old. Once their color perception is measured and documented by a representative from National Color, they are ready to begin serving the Collective in whatever capacity is determined by the test. High perception of the primary colors will earn you a place as a prefect in your village. Exceptional color perception could even lead to a position with National Color! Those very unfortunate to be unable to see any color at all are consigned to the Grey zone and given all the unsavory work that keeps the Collective running. Marriage choices are limited to same color unions or unions within the same color family and marriages between complementary colors are prohibited. So a Red could marry a Purple or an Orange, but never a Green. And of course a Grey is entirely unsuitable, although not prohibited. They also have a very rigid set of Rules that all must follow, including styles of dress, mealtime etiquette, and a strict set of protocols for virtually every occasion or situation. Oh, and they aren't allowed to make new spoons, so all existing spoons are highly prized and passed down from generation to generation. This is all due to the "Something That Happened" but no one knows what that Something was.

Eddie Russett is our protagonist. He is sent to live with his dad in the Outer Fringes after his dad is reassigned as the local "swatchman" due to the abrupt absence of the previous swatchman. Eddie is in trouble with his local council for a prank he pulled and is given the task of a "chair census" to teach him some humility. On the way to their new village they make a stop to see some sites in the nearest large town and while sight-seeing they stumble across an accident in a paint shop and Eddie's dad is called in to help. This is just the beginning of a series of strange occurences that happen as Eddie and his dad make their way in a very strange town. Things are very much not as they seem and Eddie has just enough curiousity to get himself in big trouble.

This is such an interesting world! The use of chromatics as a basis for society and government is so novel; I very much admire Mr. Fforde's creativity. I will be looking for the next in this series, for sure!
Profile Image for Rose.
795 reviews46 followers
March 26, 2018
"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't"

Do you recognize that quote? If you do, you're probably a Douglas Adams fan which means you would probably like this also. The first several chapters had so many lines in it that sounded just like something Adams would have written that you could have told me Fforde was Adams' pen-name and I would have fallen for it 100%. I love the British sense of humor and wit, the dry cleverness always gets me and Fforde is quite good at slipping in absurd lines that sound normal at first and hit you a few seconds later. This would probably be an amazing audiobook.

While I loved the humour, this is meant to be a dystopian tale about our future. Hundreds of years after the 'Something That Happened', humans have become severely colorblind and now live in a society where your social standing is determined solely based on you're ability to see color. Most of what is seen is grey but you may be able to see shades of red, yellow, or blue. How we got this way and why we live in such a backwards society are only part of the fun of reading this gem.
Profile Image for Joseph .
742 reviews115 followers
January 17, 2010
Fforde has created another most illogically logical, or logically illogical world, just like he did with his great Thursday Next series. However you look at it, this new world is more bizarre than Lewis Carroll's mad Wonderland and L. Frank Baum's colorful Oz combined. Mix in a bit of the dystopian worlds created by Lois Lowry in The Giver and Gathering Blue and you get this amazing book. A story of a future where the rules of living are based on color. Not the color of a person's skin, but the colors that they can see. Fforde has done such an amazing job with this story where leaders and their citizens go about finding legal ways to break the laws in order to keep order that its almost believable that such a world could exist. This book is so deep that I feel I'm going to have to read it again to truly understand it all since so much of it is so insane a sane mind might have some trouble understanding it all. All in all, this work is so ridiculous it was a blast to read. I can't wait for the sequel.
Profile Image for Veeral.
360 reviews133 followers
August 10, 2012
Good concept but not as well executed as I wanted it to be. Yes, I am saying “as I wanted it to be” because this is not essentially a bad novel. Far from it. The world building in itself is a sort of achievement. But considering the fact that the whole book is just that - world building - right upto the last 50 pages or so, I am not sure whether I like it or not.

Well, I don't want to properly review this book for you (because I am annoyed as this promised to be a 5 star book for me at the start). And as this is a 3 star book for me, let me link you to a couple of reviews from my GR friends Aerin and Mark, who gave this book a 2 starred and 4 starred reviews respectively. Everything they have written, I agree completely with both of their reviews. Yep, this was that kind of a book for me.

But one thing I felt by the end of this book was that it could have been so much better if this was published as a full length 1200 page novel instead of a trilogy.
Profile Image for Isamlq.
1,578 reviews710 followers
April 26, 2011
“What did he just say?” I think this was a constant reaction from me given that this is my first Fforde novel. And, boy did I slow down my pace. I even put it down a couple of times to get the details straight, EVEN SO: Shades Of Grey is worth it.

Eddie and his world are definitely quirky, different and funny! He simply wants to marry Constance and get a good job; first he must go to the Outer Fringe to conduct a chair census. On his way, he and his father meet a Grey camouflaged as a Purple as well as meet a certain Jane. Consequence? He is smitten. And that’s just the start too. So many things in this was different for me! The world that Eddie lives in is one organized according to color. So many things in this was different for me!

Profile Image for Ashley.
2,647 reviews1,691 followers
June 30, 2015
This was really, really good, and really, really weird.

I’ve been sitting on a hardcover copy of this book for YEARS, waiting for the right time to read it. The long-promised two sequels seemed nowhere in sight, so I figured no harm in waiting. And now that it looks like the second book* is on it’s way for next year at the earliest, 2017 at the latest, I figured it was about time. I am also feeling resentful and wanting to take back the phrase “Shades of Grey” from certain . . . sectors. And what a fresh breath of weirdness it turned out to be.


Undoubtedly, Jasper Fforde is a writer of silly books, but with Shades of Grey (subtitled The Road to High Saffron in order to distinguish it from its forthcoming sequels) — which is indeed a very silly book — he’s also got something with some heft to it. This is a satire like his other books, but it’s also a dystopia, which is new territory for him. The Nursery Crime books satirize our culture through fairy-tales, and the Thursday Next books are alt-histories that do the same with stories and a surplus of imagination. But the Shades of Grey series actually has a sheen of realism to it. Mind you, just a sheen. We’re not talking hard-hitting documentary here. This is a world where people use the color green as a narcotic and where spoons are highly prized objects.

It’s also the most joyfully weird dystopia I’ve ever read.

The premise of Shades of Grey, which takes place in Britain an unknown number of centuries from now, is that there was The Something That Happened, and all the people (whom the characters call The Previous) died off, leaving new humans upon the Earth who can now only see one color with their tiny little pupils (which also prevent them from seeing anything at night). Society is segregated by these colors, and certain colors have more prestige than others. Additionally, the more of a color you can see (which is measured upon adulthood with an official test), the higher up within your color you are. Color, or lack thereof, permeates every aspect of their lives. Citizens earn merits that they often use to purchase synthetic colors, and a great deal of time and effort is spent salvaging true color from the wild and turning it in concentrated form into synthetic color (which is fast running out). In addition, the society is rigidly controlled from the top. Citizens who don’t have enough merits are sent to reboot camp. Citizens are told where they will work, and marriages are arranged for optimal color production in children. Technology is also frequently leapt back, seemingly at random (in the book, telephones have only recently been taken away).

But that’s just the background. The real story starts when our main character, Eddie Russett, is sent with his father the Swatchman (a person who heals with color combinations) to a fringe village in order to earn some Humility for a prank he played on another boy. The fringes are very different, and he soon finds himself drawn into questioning for the first time why his world is the way it is.

Most dystopian novels are endlessly bleak, but sometimes that level of bleakness gets old and actually works against the message the author is trying to impart. And certainly, Fforde sticks some disturbing stuff in here amidst all the humorous oddities. But it’s precisely that level of absurdity that makes the satire so effective. The society these people live in is structured in such a ridiculous manner, but has just enough similarities to our own, that the absurdity of some of our own behavior is easily reflected in it. (It also helps that you don’t come out of the book wanting to smack your own head against a wall in despair.)

Eddie and Jane, the grey girl he quickly falls in love with, are definitely the absurdo-world version of Winston and Julia from 1984, but for me that only adds to the book’s charm. The dynamic between the haplessly naïve Eddie and the seemingly caustic, rebellious Jane was my favorite part of the book. In fact, this whole book could be called the absurdo-world 1984, and that wouldn’t be an insult to either book.

My only real complaint is that the plot takes a while to get going, because Fforde has to set up the world, which he does set up pretty organically. There isn’t really any exposition. But it does seem for about 100 pages or so that things we’re learning are just set decoration, although it turns out that almost all of it is relevant to the plot. This won’t ever be an issue for me on re-read, but it definitely was before I knew how it would all turn out.

If you haven’t tried Jasper Fforde’s writing before, I would highly recommend this as a starting point. It’s probably his most mature and well-written book, even if it’s not his funniest*. If you’ve read Fforde before and found him lacking, you might still like this because it’s of a different flavor than what you’re used to.

*It’s still pretty fucking funny, though.

And now I really do hope that the internet isn’t lying to me when it says book two will be out next year because I really want it.*

January 28, 2011
Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron is Jasper Fforde at his weirdest. It contains a delightfully bizarre and humorous look at a post-apocalyptic world hundreds (if not thousands...the timeline is a bit vague) years in the future where a future species of "human" lives in a society structured on ones ability to see color. The people of this world are largely colorblind or have limited monochromatic vision or (at best) dichromatic vision. The better you can see your specific color, the higher your social standing; the shorter the wavelength of your spectrum, the higher your social standing (following the rainbow prism of ROYGBIV, red is the low end and violet is the high end). The system itself is one of thousands upon thousands of often nonsensical rules which all must follow for the good of the collective. Into this world steps a young man named Edward, a Red who likes to ask questions. Sent to an outskirt town, he meets a violent, yet pretty Grey named Jane, stumbles into multiple conspiracies to beat the system and just tries to understand why no one is allowed to make more spoons.

As one would expect from Fforde, the books is extremely humorous and off-the-wall. Some examples: one of the greatest fears of the people in the world is being attacked by swans, spoons serve as valuable underground currency, and sex is referred to as youknow. Language itself is generally quite comical in the book, another example being that the apocalypse is simply referred to as "Something that Happened" (what actually happened, no one knows). Although funny, the humor doesn't all completely work. There were times where I mentally recognized a scene as funny but didn't find myself emotionally laughing about it. On the other hand, one paragraph had me in such stitches my wife had to come in from another room to find out what was going on. As with many works of humor, it can be a bit hit or miss.

The story, plot, and background seem better developed that what is found in the Thursday Next series, which has a much stronger "making up as he goes along" feel to it. Shades of Grey is the first book in what is planned to be at least a trilogy, so hopefully many of the unexplained aspects of the world will eventually be made clear by the end.
Profile Image for Sumit Singla.
461 reviews179 followers
January 31, 2017
I'm not fully sure of how to classify this book. Is it social satire? Is it absurdist literature? It is just a light-hearted comedic attempt by someone with a phenomenal sense of humour? Well, probably a bit of all three.

Our story is set in an oddly dystopian society - where citizens are colour-coded into a caste system. There is a total lack of individualism, and people are trained to be conformists. But, it's not bleak; it's a laugh riot with tons of actual LOL moments.

After all, punishments for stepping out of line could include conducting chair censuses or measuring the consistency of stools (Yech!).

Our young hero has to deal with all this and more. There are deadly swamps and man-eating plants/trees to deal with. In addition, the wrath of his 'lady love', a lowly Grey is not be scoffed at either.

Jasper Fforde writes brilliantly, and keeps you hanging on to every word - it's a bit of Brave New World on laughing gas. If you're not reading this, you're missing out on something brilliant.
Profile Image for Emily .
728 reviews74 followers
November 16, 2016
I really liked this one - it was funny (not in an annoying slapstick way) and had a very interesting, well thought out world. However, this book just ends. There's no real resolution to anything. Clearly there was meant to be a follow on book that never happened. For that reason, my recommendation is to skip this book simply because the ending is so frustrating.
Profile Image for Paul.
197 reviews169 followers
September 6, 2015
I knew that you were going to do this, Fforde. You couldn't have just let things end on a happy note, could you? You had to get my hopes up, and then punch them right in the face in the last few pages and ruin everything. Then you laugh as you gleefully tell me that the sequel won't be out for another year or more.


Oh, look. Another book involving shades of grey. Unlike the last one, however, this one doesn’t spit upon the face of literature. I apologize for the length of that above summary, but, in all honesty, I believe that it’s warranted. And not just because it saves me the trouble of trying to explain this book, which is a task that I don’t think that I’m capable of tackling in any reasonably succinct way.

Shades of Grey is really, truly, unabashedly odd. I’d ignore the genre tags if I were you, as they really aren’t accurate. I just had no idea how to classify this one. It’s one of those stories that is very hard to describe in only a few sentences, with a basic premise that raises so many questions that you’re sort of forced to provide more details to potential readers so as not to leave them completely bewildered.

Notice how I said “ completely bewildered.” Be prepared to get cozy with the second word in that phrase, because it’s going to describe you accurately throughout the bulk of this tale. If you’re at all familiar with Jasper Fforde’s work, it will come as no surprise to you to know that this book is likely going to be one of the strangest that you’ll encounter anytime soon. There’s nothing else quite like it out in the market right now, nor has there ever been (to my knowledge, at least). Fforde has one of the most fascinating imaginations that I’ve ever come across, and his ideas are nothing short of brilliant. I suspect that drugs may be involved here, but you can never be sure with these artist types.

The result is worldbuilding so surreal, so thoroughly realized, that it’s almost overwhelming at times. Fforde wastes no time throwing you headfirst into the madness, and you’re left to puzzle it out on your own as best you can. Believe me when I say that you’re probably going to spend the bulk of the book having very little idea of what’s going on. For the reader who likes to have the “rules” of their stories clearly laid out before them, this will drive you to insanity. While it’s nice that the author avoids info-dumping or treating audiences as though they’re idiots, it’s rather frustrating to have so many new and odd details piled on so quickly. The problem is that, while many of them come to make sense (in their own, bizarre way), just as many do not, thanks to the simple fact that they’re not supposed to. The peculiarity of this society in which we find ourselves is one of the central themes explored, and how needless many of its ways are. As a result, much of what is left unexplained probably never will be, and sorting these particulars from those mysteries that have answers forthcoming is a weighty task.

This is the only real problem that I have with Shades of Grey. Fforde’s oddball storytelling is refreshing and immensely enjoyable, but it’s also convoluted, and my floundering throughout much of the book, desperately attempting to find some sort of anchor via which I could make sense of it all, was frustrating. The upside is that once it all began to fall into place (more due to my putting the pieces together myself rather than any sort of explanation on the book’s part), the experience as a whole became much more satisfying. I guarantee that it’s worth struggling through the first half or so, despite how lost you may be at first – it’ll (sort of) make sense eventually, I promise you. Fforde’s genius becomes fully apparently only over time, and once it does, you’ll be glad that you stuck with him.

As for the story itself, there’s not much to say. It’s slow and deliberate (though never stagnant), and ends up feeling more like one long buildup to the “real” plot of the series than like a solid tale in its own right (something that really doesn’t become apparent until the last few chapters). The bulk of the book deals with the complex network of relationships, double-crossing, alliances, and feuds that populate the small town of East Carmine, with hints of a dystopian tragedy hinted at occasionally and not coming to the forefront until the end. It may not be the most exciting of adventures, but the sheer force of Fforde’s cleverness and the character’s eccentricities keeps the pages turning.

And do be warned: You’re going to have your heart broken, thanks mostly to our central couple. Eddie and Jane’s relationship develops slowly (so slowly, in fact, that they aren’t really “together” until the conclusion), making it that much sweeter once it comes to fruition. Of course, Fforde cannot permit his characters (or his readers) to be happy, so he makes sure to end things on not one, but several big cliffhangers. Tragic cliffhangers. “I-need-the-next-book-right-now-but-since-I-cannot-have-it-I’m-probably-going-to-die-from-these-feelings” cliffhangers.

Brutal. Thanks, Fforde.

To Conclude…

It’s quirky, well-written, smart, witty, and emotional. It has everything that a certain other book with a rather similar name does not have. I’d recommend that you go out and read it immediately, but, considering that the sequel isn't expected to be released for another few years (what in the world is Fforde up to?!), you might want to wait so that the interim won’t be quite so brutal.

Until then, you can find me in the corner willing Fforde to write faster, and possibly crying. You’re free to join me if you decide to give Shades of Grey a try.

I hope that you do. It’s lonely over here.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,032 reviews48.4k followers
November 27, 2013
Remember that kid in middle school who sat off by himself during lunch reciting Monty Python skits? You must track him down (parents' house: basement) and send him a copy of Jasper Fforde's "Shades of Grey." This insanely clever novel from the author of the best-selling "Thursday Next" series sounds like a cult classic for people who crave a rich brew of dystopic fantasy and deadpan goofiness. Shifting away from his postmodern literary parodies, which began with "The Eyre Affair" in 2001, Fforde has now created his most original story, an elaborate social satire about a weird but oddly familiar world almost 500 years in the future.

Every page of this high-concept novel (the first of a projected trilogy) glistens with ingenious details. The era you and I live in, the Previous, has long since vanished into the mists of time, but a single map remains of our pre-Epiphanic society: the Parker Brothers' board game Risk, which provides a somewhat misleading impression of antiquity. This brave new world, the love child of Aldous Huxley and Franz Kafka, is dominated by a rigid apartheid society, what its citizens call a Colortocracy: Each person's status is determined not by skin color but by the ability to perceive color. "Color, and the enjoyment thereof, was everything," Fforde writes, as he paints a culture that speaks and thinks entirely in terms of hues, shades and pigments.

Citizens take their place in the Chromatic scale, an inviolate caste system -- the Reds, the Yellows, the Blues -- that strictly forbids intermarriage between complementary colors. People who can't see any color at all -- the Greys, which make up about a third of the population -- toil away as a kind of slave race. Branded with a bar code and sporting the appropriate colored badge, "You know who you were," Fforde writes, "what you would do, where you would go and what was expected of you." Enlightenment is worse than death.

But that's just the beginning of this Lewis Carroll madness tinted with steampunk. The palette of Fforde's comedy is immense. Except for linoleum production, industry exists only to harvest scraps of ancient relics and extract their pigments, which are then pumped around to various towns through a massive network of pipes for the maintenance of artificial gardens. All other technology is incrementally abandoned in a series of Progressive Leapbacks: telephones, automobiles, indoor lighting -- all given up, along with more and more of the books in the library through a process called "deFacting." (The library staff presides proudly over their emptying shelves: "There was Catch-22," one diligent librarian says, "which was a hugely popular fishing book and one of a series, I believe.")

Fforde is like the stand-up comic in a gulag; his silly but cerebral humor prances through this dreary place without missing a beat. The harried souls of his color-obsessed world are controlled by what sounds like a prep-school rulebook, endlessly elaborated and corrupted over the centuries, though a vast system of "loopholery" has developed in response. Quotations from their infallible leader open each chapter with dollops of straight-faced absurdity. Spoon production is strictly forbidden; swearing, acronyms, clothing and sex are all regulated; and musicals are the only form of entertainment ("Red Side Story," "Repaint Your Wagon," "Ochrlahoma!").

And then, and then, and then . . . . Oh, it's hard not to get lost in the marvelous details of this novel, which is pretty much what happens to the plot. Very lightly strung through all this bubbling exposition is the slow story of a young naif named Eddie Russett, whose father is a Chromaticologist who heals people with swatches of carefully blended hues. Sent to the outer-fringe town of East Carmine to learn humility, Eddie finds himself stumbling upon a series of suspicious deaths. He has no intention of causing trouble -- he's a good Red set to begin a life of well-regulated ease -- but he falls irresistibly in love with a spunky Grey named Jane who threatens to break his arm. And then his nose. Who could resist such foreplay? Slowly, Jane takes the rose-colored glasses from Eddie's eyes and forces him to see what's really going on in the Colortocracy.

As a satire of planned economies and repressive governments, "Shades of Grey" reaches toward "1984," but thematically it isn't as profound as its clever props suggest. That becomes distressingly clear at climactic moments when All Is Explained in the most colorless and obvious ways. "I had a sense that everything about the Collective was utterly and completely wrong," Eddie says, long after that thought has occurred even to the greyest reader. "We should be dedicating our lives to gaining knowledge, not to losing it." You think? The level of suspense is so tepid that from hundreds of pages away, you can hear Charlton Heston yelling, "Soylent Green is people! We've got to stop them somehow!"

To be fair, part of the problem is timing. We've already read "1984" and "Harrison Bergeron" and "Fahrenheit 451" and a dozen other trenchant satirical assaults on the evils of societies that perpetuate themselves by infantilizing populations with inane regulations. But where besides North Korea and a few other pariah states would "Shades of Grey" make anyone see red nowadays? Both the thrills and the romantic comedy pick up during the final quarter, but as much as it hurts to say it, color me disappointed.

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