SHADES OF GREY 1: THE ROAD TO HIGH SAFFRON
by Jasper Fforde
Let me just put this out there straight up: I would knock down my own Grandmother if she stood between me and a new Jasper Fforde novel. There are few authors I idolise as much as Jasper Fforde, the man who brought us, Jurisfiction, the Chronoguard, full body-contact croquet and the ingenious Footnoterphone! Imagine, then, my hand-trembling excitement as I explored a world utterly different from that of the Thursday Next series, a vision of the future I guarantee you’ve never even dreamt about before, and yet still so unmistakeably Ffordeian.
Shades of Grey takes place in a society entirely governed by a Colourtocracy: a system based on the Munsell Colour System. One’s social standing, career potential, address and even marriage prospects are determined entirely by your own innate colour perception – the range of colours your retinas perceive and to what intensity. The social order has been kept for centuries by strict adherence to the Book of Muns, a meticulous and legally infallible rulebook written in the great Epiphany, that, among many other arbitrary laws, prohibits the production of any new spoons.
Of course, any social ladder implies a bottom rung and in this world it belongs to the Greys. With less than 15% colour perception they are treated little better than slaves, performing all the menial labour for the society for minimum wages. Most bow to their fate with the acceptance of people who know they have no hope of beating the system but there are some in the Fringe towns who refuse to conform, despite the risk of being sent to the Emerald City for Reboot.
It is to the Fringe that a young Red named Eddie Russett has been sent with his father to conduct a chair census – a futile disciplinary task designed to teach him humility. With ambitions to marry into the well-to-do Oxblood family and their profitable string empire, a sojourn in the uncivilised Fringe is a real blow to his prospects. it’s here that Eddie becomes captivated by the dangerously rebellious Jane Grey and is drawn into a mystery that goes to the dark truth at the centre of the entire Colourtocracy.
Jasper Fforde builds his world and reveals the mystery at its heart patiently, almost teasingly, with tantalising and hilarious details on every page about the life in post-Epiphanic England where swans are feared almost as much as lightning and the population puzzles over scant relics left over from the defacting, such as Parker Brothers Maps and Model T Fords. It has a slower pace to it than the Thursday Next series but the central characters are enormously likeable and Eddie’s first person narrative so earnestly charming that you are quickly won over and swept along with increasing fascination.
Shades of Grey is an Austenesque comedy of manners set in an Orwellian dystopia, written by one of the sharpest and most inventive wits alive today.