Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Eddie Russet lives in a world where most people can only see one natural color - and how much of that color they can see determines their place in the world. He has life figured out ... until he's banished to the Outer Fringes for attempting to improve the process of queueing, where a rebellious Grey named Jane challenges everything he thinks he knows.
It's a fantastic premise for a world, and many authors would have stopped there, but the setting of Shades of Grey is both deeply whimsical and twisted. It is built on a mysterious past of "the Previous," who the reader assumes (but is never sure) was our own society, then bent thoroughly out of shape by premises that seem absurd, but hinge together with a logic one can almost - but never quite - make out. It's a balancing act of dizzying skill.
Before the last quarter of Shades of Grey, I'd have to say that I felt Fforde spent too much time just exploring his world, without much clear conflict or advancement of the plot. Then when I got to the chilling pay-off in the last pages, well ... I still think the story could have done with a little less exploration, but that deep immersion in the setting is crucial for the impact of the climax, and having been hit upside the head with it, I am confident that many of the apparently extraneous details will have relevance in the sequels.
Because this is definitely a book one ... but it's a book one that ends in a satisfying place, with the character resolved and evolved. The main questions are really deeply personal ones: will Eddie find his place in the world? Will he be able to kindle romance with Jane? ... and both these questions get my absolute favorite answer: "Yes, but ..."
The only other quibble I have with Shades of Grey is that I never felt particularly deep in Eddie's head. For a first person narrative, it's surprisingly shallow in POV. But small points aside, I don't say it lightly when I describe this novel as brilliant. Give it a try.
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