29 January 2010

Coffee-Stained Pages: Shades of Grey

Well, I've finished reading Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.  And it was better than I could have expected.

As is the norm with Jasper Fforde, I don't know how to explain the story without giving anything away.  You could read descriptions on Barnes & Noble's website, but it doesn't begin to tell you how fun and quirky and complex the story really is.

The "classes" in this story's society, referred to as the Collective, are based on color.  Each person can see only one color, and the color you see determines your place in society.  Purples are on top, followed by Blues, Greens, Yellows, Oranges, and Reds.  Greys, who can't see any colors, are the lowest class.

The people are focused on moving up in their society by marrying into higher hues.  For example, if there's a Purple who sees more blue than red, she would either marry a Purple who can see more red, or marry a Red.  Then her children would be more Purple than she is, and thus higher on the societal chain.

When the people aren't worrying about their place in society, they're following the Rules.  The Rules are infallible, and must be followed.  Of course, there are loopholes in some cases, but often breaking the rules leads to demerits and, with persistent rebellion, Reboot.  As a member of the Collective, it's also your responsibility to let the Prefects know if someone else has broken any Rules.  (Although, nearly everyone takes a peek of Lime now and then.)  Rules range from determining what clothes are appropriate in what situations to keeping complementary colors from marrying to forbidding slouching.

Hunting ball lightning, ignoring the Apocryphal, watching out for swans, and bargaining for youknow are just a few other things on people's minds.

Eddie Russett is a Red.  He's been sent to East Carmine in the Outer Fringes with his father, a swatchman (the equivalent of a doctor, except he uses colors to heal).  His father is replacing the previous swatchman, and Eddie is to conduct a chair census as part of his punishment for trying to improving queuing (standing in line, for those on this side of the pond).  Once he gets there he starts to see that, for all the Rules he's known his whole life, the Outer Fringes are different.  Things aren't what they seem, and all he's known as black and white are blending into shades of gray.

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