Shades of Grey
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Phantasmagoria of color and commentary on the stasis of a socialized world.
Edward Russet and his father, a swatchman, are on their way to East Carmine from Jade-Under-Lime, where he is on a half promise of marriage to Constance Oxblood, a very old and respected upper color family. Mr. Russet is to be temporary swatchman to replace the unexpectedly and recently deceased swatchman in East Carmine until a one can be found and Edward will conduct a chair census to learn humility. Such is the life of a family in the Colortocracy that rules the world they live in. Things are not as they seem on the surface in East Carmine, the last stop on the road to Reboot. Edward finds himself in the midst of intrigue, questions and death that may lead him to the Reboot if he is not careful.
Creating a believable fictional world is a task that Jasper Fforde does with an obvious amount of glee as he places his very human characters in the midst of a post apocalyptic world in which the denizens can see only a small fraction of the color spectrum and cannot see at all in the dark. Everything is in primary and secondary colors, from the names of towns to the last names of the characters, and everything is based on a caste system firmly rooted in six colors: red, yellow, blue, purple, green and orange. Jobs are allocated by color and place within the societal hierarchy is rigidly controlled by how much of the spectrum is visible to each person. And then there are the Greys, the serfs in the Collective who do most of the manual labor since they are not fit for better.
Shades of Grey is an eminently believable world with a tightly controlled class system that is not without its usual human failings: lying, cheating, manipulation and physical danger. Murder has supposedly been outlawed and the Head Office over the past five hundred years has been diligently moving technology backward while the population dwindles. The Colortocracy is absolute—mostly—unless a loophole is found and exploited, but there are only so many loopholes.
What Fforde has achieved is a world of bar codes, free roaming wildlife, man-eating plants, fading technology that few understand and a cast of colorful characters interacting in a believable universe that is Karl Marx’s worst nightmare. It is a decidedly benign universe on the surface that discourages free thinking or adaptability that positively oozes with sarcasm, social commentary and wonder. At no time does Fforde break the fantasy to speechify or sermonize, although his philosophy is patently clear.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip into the community in Shades of Grey where Dolores Umbridge would be completely at home. Jasper Fforde is a master storyteller and an erudite and witty social commentator whose intelligence is the submerged shark speeding toward the unsuspecting establishment busily keeping the status quo. I’ve seldom been more captivated or satisfied with the time spent. I hope there will be more.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell