Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shades of Grey

by Jasper Fforde

Imagine a world where everyone behaved well: there are no prisons, no wars or uprisings, everyone follows the Rules. A utopia? Maybe not. As twenty-year-old Eddie Russett is about to find out, a world in which everyone unquestioningly follows Rules that cover everything from the most mundane ("Flowers are not to be picked. They are to be enjoyed by everyone.") to absurd (spoons may no longer be manufactured), a world that follows a strict color hierarchy based on which color(s) the inhabitants can see from Purple at the best to Grey at the worst, holds some secrets. And having curiosity about such secrets may just get him killed - as he tells us from the first page, the activities of the past four days flash before his eyes while he is being digested by a carnivorous yataveo tree.

Having read all of the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, I put a hold on this book as soon as I knew that it was coming out. Fforde's writing can't be easily categorized: it's part science fiction, part dystopia, and all humorous even while making a serious point about unquestioning obedience. The details of the dystopia overwhelmed me at first, as there are so many details that I had to keep a handle on, such as the meanings of merits, positive feedback, and trying to grasp how people who only saw one or two colors saw the world. Fforde creates a good sense of tension at the beginning, hinting that all was not right in the death of Robin Ochre, a "swatchman" (essentially a doctor) out on the Outer Fringes whom Eddie's father is replacing. The middle dragged a bit, however, as naive Eddie muddles about trying to figure out what the reader already has - that all is not right in his world - and deciding whether or not to trust Jane. Though Eddie is the narrator, Jane really steals the show with her adamant refusal to treat people with respect merely because of the color they see. I look forward to seeing what happens to these characters in subsequent titles.

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