I am a fan of Jasper Fforde's writing. My brother, Duffy, and I have read all of his other books and were eagerly awaiting the appearance of this book on bookseller's tables.
The first thing I have to say about Shades of Grey is that while being as imaginative as his usual writing,
it feels very dis-similar to his other works. It is fortunate that I was expecting that.
Shades of Grey is set in a world that has experienced some form of major catastrophe that is never explained. It is a world controlled by a strict set of rules which are imposed by the use of heavy fines and the fear of "reboot".
This world is a world that is fading fast. Its color is fading fast. There is no explanation for why this is the case. Color is mined from other areas and brought to towns which have the money to support the artificial coloring of their environs.
The first half of the book follows Eddie Russet and his dad, a Swatchman (doctor,) as they move to a different town. It gives the reader an impression of how things work in this world, setting the stage for the rest of the story. Color is used for many things in this world; even as medicine. Abuse of color (in our world, drug abuse) has its own terminology. Going for the ultimate high, vieiwing a particular shade of green, is known as "chasing the frog."
The poeple in this world are only able to see certain colors. There family names originate in the world of color. Their social status is based upon their color perception. Social status is everything. Yellows are typecast as not-so-nice people. Purple is the desired color, the color of the ruling class. This world is ruled by a Colortocracy.
Greys are disrespected and are relegated to servitude, the lowest of the classes. The motto of this world's civilization is "Apart we are together." A person can not, in good conscience, or legally, marry a complementary color. That would be wrong, very wrong.
By the end of the book Eddie has learned many secrets about the town he's been living in; secrets that are hard to believe and which lead to obvious trouble. Eddie ends up finding himself on a treck to High Saffron...a deadly quest. He is in search of whether it is possible to mine color from this region. And of course, love creeps into the story during this dangerous quest.
Encoded zebras, the last rabbit, death by Mildew, and a dearth of spoons. Is that enough intrigue for you?
Jasper Fforde is Welsh. His other book series are set in the UK. This book strikes me as feeling British even in its other-worldliness. The wording of the text isn't that heavily British. The strict adherence to societal rules, however, does feel very British and proper. Shades of Grey is the first in a three-book series.