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4.5 out of 5 stars
Shades of Grey
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125 of 130 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It was not a month ago that I finished my last Jasper Fforde book, and was bemoaning the lack of further work by him to read. So I was more than delighted to have the opportunity to read his latest book.

This is the first book in another new series. I spend the first thirty pages of a Jasper Fforde series undergoing severe cognitive dissonance - or to put it another way, wondering what the heck is going on. The next thirty pages are spent thinking something like: "Hmm. Let's run with this a little further." And the rest of the book (and indeed, subsequent books in the series) passes by in an increasingly addicted scamper.

The plot of "Shades of Grey" moves Fforde firmly in the direction of Science Fiction, rather than the kind of literary fantasy that constitutes the The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next) and The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crime) series, and the scope of the work is also bigger. We find ourselves in a future world, in which people have limited colour perception, and this is what determines their social standing. Edward Russett, a young man who is yet to take his place in society, finds himself struggling to accept the status quo, and as the book develops, we start to learn some sinister facts. Think of "Nineteen Eighty Four", "The Matrix" or "Brave New World", but with a lighter touch.

It isn't hard to read into "Shades of Grey" a parable of modern societies - it is well worth thinking through the implications of intolerance, racism and the priority of the system above individuals as you read the book. It is populated by authentic characters - and as with the earlier series, the principle actors are extraordinarily sympathetic.

There are few writers who, to my mind, come up with such complex and coherent imaginary universes - as with the other series, the divergence with the real world is radical, and yet seemingly consistent on the deepest levels. Fforde has been compared with Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll, but to my mind, although they have their place, he surpasses them on a literary level. I can't wait to see how this series develops. (And I'm looking forward to hearing more about Thursday Next, as well!)

Unfortunately, now I've finished my last Jasper Fforde book, and have no further work by him to read....
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2010
I honestly can't think what to say about Shades of Grey. It's a fantastic book - deeper and much more cerebral than I had been expecting. I had thought it would be something more of a comedy romp, a little more like Fforde's previous Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. Instead it's a modern masterpiece that I really hope becomes this half-century's equivalent to 1984.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world some 700 years in the future, so long after the 'Something that Happened' that no one can remember what made the world this way. Your social status is decided by colour - not of your skin, but how much, and which colour you can see. The Purples at the top of the pile down to the Reds at the bottom, and the Grey slave class that sit below the lot. Lives are lived by a set of arcane rules that no one understand, but everyone follows religiously. Until Eddie Russet has an idea to improve the efficiency of the lunch queue and his life changes beyond recognition.

It's quite frustrating in a way, as we see the world through Eddie's eyes (red) and so only learn things which he sees it fit to tell us. Usually that is not stuff about the world, as it is written 'in universe', so the narration assumes you know how the world is. As such there are lots of things you don't discover until it becomes relevant to the plot. On the other hand though this is a genius method for making want to keep turning pages to find out more, and it enables surprise to follow surprise. There are things that seem so obvious now that it seems unbelievable that I didn't see them coming.

Fforde has definitely surpassed his previous work with this one. Deep and meaningful while full of satire and humour, it's the most thought provoking novel I've read for a long time if ever. I can only hope that its sequels live up to its legacy.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
"2.3.06.02.087: Unnecessary sharpening of pencils constitutes a waste of public resources, and will be punished as appropriate.

2.3.03.01.006: Juggling shall not be practiced after 4:00 p.m.

3.06.03.12.009: Croquet mallets are not to be used for knocking in the hoops. Fine: one merit."

'- Examples of Rules to be followed by members of the Collective

Those readers of the Thursday Next series can only marvel at the flights of fancy of the author, Jasper Fforde. In SHADES OF GREY, the author creates a new fantastical realm, Chromatacia.

Herein, it's presumably our planet Earth, or one on an alternate timeline, several centuries in the future. Five-hundred years previous to the time of the book, there was the Something That Happened, an apparently cataclysmic event that left the human survivors unable to distinguish the full visible color spectrum. Now, each individual perceives only one color or color range, or a small part of several color ranges at best. Society is organized into the Collective, and an individual's social status is governed by the Chromatic Hierarchy, i.e. the color he/she can perceive. Purples are at the top. Greys, at the bottom, are treated not much better than serfs. Bacon is considered the choicest of foods. The greatest life-threatening dangers are ostensibly posed by swans, flying monkeys, pookas, ball lightning, and a carnivorous tree called a yateveo. The Collective's laws and rules for living, enforced by the widely-hated Yellows, are derived from the Word of Munsell.

Technology from the time previous to the Something That Happened survives in roads made of Perpetulite, a living substance that allows the road to repair itself and push inorganic obstacles, e.g. rocks, to the verges. Organic debris is absorbed into road itself. No potholes here.

The hero of the story is young Eddie Russett. As his name implies, he sees colors in the red spectrum. Eddie and his father have moved to the Outer Fringe village of East Carmine, at which place Eddie will take a chair census as a lesson in humility ordered by the ruling Colortocracy after he proposed a Numbered Queuing System in his prior home town of Vermillion.

Eddie is several days short of his twentieth birthday, on which date he will undergo the conventional rite of passage to adulthood, the Ishihara - a one-time, comprehensive test of his color perception that will cement his rank in the Chromatic Hierarchy for the rest of his life.

During his first days in East Carmine, Russett will experience a momentous revelation having perhaps the same psychological impact as that experienced by Ty Thorn, the Charlton Heston character in the film Soylent Green [DVD] [1973].

For me, the chief value of SHADES OF GREY is to once again stand in awe of the author's creative imagination. Otherwise, the particulars of the plot reminded me of the relatively sedate Introduction to a larger work that will, by the end, knock the readers' socks off. There are, indeed, burning questions waiting to be explored. For example, at one point, the mysterious Moon is described as "having lights on the unlit side of the crescent." Lunar settlements, perhaps? And then there are the "other glowing specks adrift in the night (sky)." Satellites, shuttlecraft? It almost sounds as if the Something That Happened isolated a piece of damaged humanity on Earth while the rest of the species went on to colonize the near-space neighborhood.

The next two installments in the series are apparently to be entitled PAINTING BY THE NUMBERS and THE GORDINI PROTOCOLS, and the prospects for having my socks knocked off seem assured indeed.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2011
I really did enjoy this book a lot. I've read the "Thursday Next" books by Jasper Fforde previously and thoroughly enjoyed them. The world he inhabits is strangely different and strangely similar to ours - this cleverly done, well written and highly amusing. Shades of Grey however is in some ways very different from the Thursday ones which are (relatively) straightforward fantasy. It is set is a post apocalyptic world although we do not know the nature of the disaster which has befallen an age somewhat after our current time but leaving many feature we can recognise and a body of law laid down which is unquestionably bizarre, clever and funny. There have been a number of "Leapbacks" since the "Time When Something Happened" which have removed many traces of useful technology including spoons but no other eating implements... Fortunately there is the word of Munsell which lays down any number of rules many of which are highly amusing.

However this differs quite a bit from the Thursday Next books in that it has a very dark under current running all through it - I happily laughed at the rules and procedures and then starting thinking a little deeper. For me there is more than a nod to an Orwellian world which has a flavour of both Animal Farm and 1984. Colour provides the hierarchy in this world (the ability to perceive colours) and those who do not get the merits required to remain citizens are sent to Reboot.

Either way the life of Eddie Russett, who has quite high Red perception, and is sent to Outer Fringes to gain Humility, and Jane, a mere Grey who would certainly injure me for that comment, who lives there, is due for Reboot and has explored far more of the surrounding area which is now "wild" than almost any others, had me gripped. The bad news is I now want to read the others in the series and they will not be available for quite a while. If "off the wall" fantasy coupled with dark manipulative higher powers appeal I would strongly recommend this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Like it or not, we life in a society determined by class; gone are the days of the obvious working, middle and upper classes - but the imprint of them still exists. Imagine a world which is even more structured around your class level, and in turn this level was determined by what colours you are able to see. This is the intriguing premise that is the centre of Jasper Fforde's new novel `Shades of Grey'. This is intelligent science fiction based in a world that may, or may not, be our very own in the future. The central idea of a world almost drained of colour is a hard one to get your head around, but Fforde is a skilful enough writer to ease you in. The central character of Eddie Russett is an ideal person to do this as he views the world with red tinted curiosity - in a manner that informs the reader.

For a book with such a high concept it is nice to see how English it feels. The world is one of petty bureaucracy at home in the liked of Gilliam's `Brazil', or the County Council! With so many people on the take, it is fun to see Eddie get himself in and out of trouble. The story itself is pretty limp, in this the first of a planned trilogy. Instead, it is the world itself that is at the forefront and Fforde spends almost the entire book explaining the various eccentricities of it all; from the strict law book full of typos, to the common nature of selling you children for profit. Many people may find the book too bizarre or complex, but for those people that do get through it, and begin to understand the world, there is a very funny and interesting book to be found.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 1 January 2011
After the slightly disappointing Nursery Crimes (bit too silly), it's great to see fforde back on top form with this new series.

Set in the distant future, post-apocalypse (or Something that Happened, as the characters call it), society is rigidly demarcated depending on what colours you can see and how well you can see them, with the colour-blind greys forming an underclass which is worked like slaves. Young Eddie Russet is no rebel despite being sent on temporary (he hopes) relocation to East Carmine for daring to suggest an improved method of queueing; he intends to marry into the wealthy Oxblood family and play his part in the Collective. But meeting grey Jane, with her anarchic spirit and propensity for sudden violence, makes him reassess all he believes, and soon his position in society and even his life are under threat.

fforde wouldn't be fforde without his brilliant jokes. My favourite concerns one of the detailed, petty rules but which life is conducted in the Collective. For 200 years every child is given a glass of milk and a smack at 11am, until someone tentatively suggests that 'smack' may be a typo.

This is one of those books that you read quickly because you want to know what happens while, at the same time, wishing it would go for another 1000 pages.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 21 September 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed Fforde's 'Thursday' series after being recommended by a friend (and, incidentally, don't do this verbally - it's really difficult - just press a copy of the book into their hands and walk away). I was on the look-out for more Fforde and came across this.
Part of the fun of future-fantasy-sci-fi for me is spotting where the author has sneaked in bits of 'our' world to the future fantasy and what those people in the future make of them.
Fforde has created a world that is so far ahead of ours that there's almost nothing left and technology had clearly moved on considerably before Something Happened.
I didn't find this book funny, but it is engaging, amusing, fascinating and complex.
As other reviewers have noted, this future world is a Colourtocracy (I think that's the right word). There are shadowy figures well in the background that are controlling it although their direct impact on the population appears minimal. The population is largely self-regulating, with those who are earmarked as 'trouble' sent away for 're-booting'.
The main character is traveling with his father, who is a sort of out-of-hours relief colour doctor, and they have been sent to fill in for a colour doctor who mysteriously died, possibly by 'Chasing the Frog' (too much green ...). Illnesses are cured by exposing the patient to doses of colour, but it has to be compatible with their own colour orientation, or it could kill them instead. Colours are also used like drugs to get a semi-legal high.
Eddie/Ed/Edward is someone who tries very hard to behave as a model citizen should and is hoping for a prestigious marriage to improve his colour rating and therefore his social standing, but he has competition ...
Eddie is also teetering on the edge of being re-booted, particularly once he becomes involved with a 'Grey' (the lowest of the low in this world - the equivalent of the drones or the plebs or the workers, who are exploited by those who can see colour - presumably the Greys can only see in monochrome).
Eddie's problems are several and he makes choices that plunge him ever deeper into potential and actual trouble.
Towards the end of the book, the machinations of the unseen rulers of this strange future are beginning to be exposed and it really is very sinister indeed.
If you enjoy future-fantasy-sci-fi, then you are likely to thoroughly enjoy this book. I found it hard to put down, even though at intervals I really had no idea what was going on as the future world is so extremely different to ours. Those moments passed and things did become clearer as the book progressed.
There are some deft comic touches, like a librarian thinking that 'Catch 22' was a book about fishing and probably one in a series, but Fforde is careful not to over do this and turn the book into whimsy.
I recommend this book but only gave it 4* because it is quite hard to read and, as some reviewers have noted, it does drag a bit in places.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
(No, no, not Shades of Grey with that number (50) in front of it – this is a thoroughly different book, written by the master of the comic novels, Jasper Fforde).

“Do you favour a return to the ways of the Previous with their destructive myopia and Worship of the Me? Or simply a descent into the anarchic savagery of the Riffraff?”

It’s hard to know how to write a review of this book without either offering spoilers, or having the reader think the reviewer has gone mad. Because this is one of those books, where nothing makes sense when you say it out loud, but the book itself makes perfect sense when you read it.

Set hundreds of years in the future, after the time when Something Happened, life is lived according to Munsell, whose very handy Rulebook lays down the procedure for every and all eventualities. Anything that occurs outside those eventualities must not be acknowledged, and is therefore Anachronistic. Eddie Russett is a Red who dreams of marrying up in the Colours. That is, until he meets Jane – a rebellious Grey who is about to be sent to Reboot. We hear Eddie’s story as told by Eddie, and it is an enlightening read.

This is a book which seems to start off all light and comic, but by the end of the book it has changed its perception, as indeed Eddie has. There is a very serious novel inside the structure of the way in which people are living their lives. Their lifestyle seems comic, but it is in fact serious – deadly serious. There is satire and laugh-out-loud humour in this book, but there is also a very solemn look into the ways of society, and the propensity of people to try and live under the radar, and avoid rocking the boat.

I am delighted to find that there are two more volumes to follow on from this book – the second is Painting by Numbers, the third The Gordini Protocol. I just wish the author would hurry up and get on with writing them!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
(No, no, not Shades of Grey with that number (50) in front of it – this is a thoroughly different book, written by the master of the comic novels, Jasper Fforde).

“Do you favour a return to the ways of the Previous with their destructive myopia and Worship of the Me? Or simply a descent into the anarchic savagery of the Riffraff?”

It’s hard to know how to write a review of this book without either offering spoilers, or having the reader think the reviewer has gone mad. Because this is one of those books, where nothing makes sense when you say it out loud, but the book itself makes perfect sense when you read it.

Set hundreds of years in the future, after the time when Something Happened, life is lived according to Munsell, whose very handy Rulebook lays down the procedure for every and all eventualities. Anything that occurs outside those eventualities must not be acknowledged, and is therefore Anachronistic. Eddie Russett is a Red who dreams of marrying up in the Colours. That is, until he meets Jane – a rebellious Grey who is about to be sent to Reboot. We hear Eddie’s story as told by Eddie, and it is an enlightening read.

This is a book which seems to start off all light and comic, but by the end of the book it has changed its perception, as indeed Eddie has. There is a very serious novel inside the structure of the way in which people are living their lives. Their lifestyle seems comic, but it is in fact serious – deadly serious. There is satire and laugh-out-loud humour in this book, but there is also a very solemn look into the ways of society, and the propensity of people to try and live under the radar, and avoid rocking the boat.

I am delighted to find that there are two more volumes to follow on from this book – the second is Painting by Numbers, the third The Gordini Protocol. I just wish the author would hurry up and get on with writing them!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2013
This is a novel that will keep you entertained, intrigued, at times baffled and often amused. It is a novel for those who like to explore the fictional world they are hurled into (shades of Arthur C Clarke's 'Rendezvous with Rama' and 'The City and the Stars' in this respect) and Fforde's talent enables us partially to visualize and imagine, to begin to complete what he shows us; is this future world, with its technological 'Leaps Back', the result of technology getting out of hand? This is though such a strange future that we can never be entirely sure we have everything 'taped' - which is part of the fun, and will bring you back for more. This is still though, a novel with a very human heart. Focusing the narrative through the main character (Eddie Russett), who becomes displaced, enables the reader to empathise but also to discover things along with him, while we, as it were, hurry to catch up with his understanding.

Like any good song, you might not 'get it' to begin with, but 'Shades of Grey' will grow on you if you give it a chance and you have the wit to appreciate it. It is a fast-paced, sure-footed text that takes the wholly admirable risk of losing you, because Fforde does not patronise his readers with acres of exposition and back-story!

This far distant future dystopia has tantalizing echoes of places that are recognizable, teasing allusions and more word play than you can shake a stick at (can you spot the allusion to the Muppets?). All of which, be warned, often makes the reader laugh out loud (and I hardly ever do when reading fiction, normally). Yet there is clear menace and mystery too: so many questions and always things to be found out and explored - not least, how will Eddie escape the peril we discover him in on p.1?

Never before have I re-read a novel 4 times within 2 years. 'Shades of Grey' is addictive because there is always something new to discover - surely crucial to any good writing. And never before have I so yearned for a sequel; like being a child waiting for the next week's comic! Yes, Fforde has delved into sci-fi, but this is more than that - it is a dystopian fantasy of extraordinary imagination and yet deep humanity with its focus on issues of discrimination, social structures and hierarchy and the value of life. I have read an immense amount in my over 50 years - 'Shades of Grey' is the most enjoyable book I can remember in all that time.
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