Customer Review

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good start to a series, 16 Dec 2009
This review is from: Shades of Grey (Hardcover)
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I came to this with some misgivings, as I have previously found Fforde's books a little twee and cloying. However, this was (at least for me) a fresh departure. Fforde paints - or perhaps I should say shades - a world which is on the surface deceptively naive, but has chilling depths.

The central device of "Shades" (and sequels are planned) is a world where most people have limited vision (their pupils won't open and they can't see at all at night) and little or no perception of natural colour at all. As a result, those who can see natural colour to any degree have greater social status, with a hierarchy which depends on which colours they can see. Colour is valued in other ways too - artificial colours (which everyone can see, I think - although this wasn't totally clear?) are provided by a utility, National Colour, whose mains pipes every community wishes to have access to. The search for colour is an endless preoccupation with each separate community sending out "toshers" to forage in ruined towns for scrap colour.

Quite how things got this way isn't clear - this is obviously our world, several hundred years in the future. There has been a war, perhaps, or an epidemic, and a society which had developed subtle ways of using colour for education, entertainment and medicine has fallen. Its influence remains, though - for example, "swatchmen" treat illness by showing the sick swatches of the right colour. Look at the wrong colour too long, though, and you're dead, or as good as.

This world is described well and in detail. This is where my only reservation comes in - the middle of the book drags rather as Eddie (I hadn't mentioned that the hero is Eddie Maroon, a Red about to fall in love with ... ugh ... a GREY of all people) potters round East Crimson (yes, all the places have colour names) doing nothing in particular. I think this is what's termed "world building" - Fforde is writing a series of novels and has to set out the background first. Hopefully, with that out of the way, the remainder will be a little pacier.

But don't misunderstand, I enjoyed this book, which manages to be both sinister (look out for the Colourman) and funny (the marriage market in East C. resembles nothing so much as Jane Austen, with the added twist that couples' compatibility depends on their colour orientation - if you and your beloved are complementary colours, forget it, that just isn't done.)

What else? A bizarre Rulebook that governs every aspect of life (leading to a thriving science of "loopholery"), Leapback (every ten years, another technology is proscribed: this is a Great Leap Backwards) and an Apocryphal Man... wonderful, and I'm looking forward to the sequels.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Jan 2010 17:46:48 GMT
I haven't got or read Shades of Grey yet but I suspect that colour sensitivity is a sensitive subject and thinking the hero is Maroon rather than Russet may have coloured the reviewers opinion. Can't wait to get mixed up too.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Feb 2010 21:18:58 GMT
D. Harris says:
Ah! I'm crimson with shame!
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D. Harris
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Location: Oxford, UK

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