Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde: I have to confess that I'm not a dystopia fan. I have a pretty significant addiction to fantasy, but dystopia is not my subgenre. I'm not sure what it is, exactly - perhaps the appeal of fantasy for me is imagining a better world, not a worse one. Or that the dystopia I've tried has been (to me) intolerably bleak. But I avoid even highly praised books if they're described as dystopian. However, I *am* a Jasper Fforde fan, so I didn't even hesitate to pick up Shades of Grey on the release date, despite its dystopian description.
Eddie Russett's world is our world at some point in the distant future, after the Something That Happened, which ushered in an age of chromatocracy (rank determined by which color in the spectrum one can see) and strict, often pointless, rules according to the edicts of Munsell. Eddie can see only red, which places him well below the elite Purples and forbids him from marrying anyone Green (complimentary colors are forbidden to mingle). His world is artificially colored by the limited resource of scrap color mined from increasingly tapped-out supplies. He wants nothing more than to marry a woman from a redder family than his own to restore the Russett family's lost status, when he is sent to the village of East Carmine, on the almost-lawless Outer Fringes, to learn some humility after a prank on the headmaster's son. He meets Jane, a lowly Grey, who intrigues him with her lack of respect for the Rules and questioning of the caste system and its effects. He takes on a suicide mission to the deserted, dangerous village of High Saffron to seek a new source of scrap color, and learns more about his world than he really wanted to. What will he do with that knowledge in the next two books in the trilogy? I can't wait to find out.
Fforde's imagination is really a force to be reckoned with, and this is his most original effort yet. The chromatocracy is established as such a complete, believable fact that I had no difficulty suspending disbelief. Eddie is a likable hero, as ignorant of the truth about his world as we are, slowly learning that things are not as they seem. The bitter, determined Jane is a fantastic counterpoint to his blithe ignorance. The Something That Happened is never defined, but splashes of insight keep it a constant presence in the book, and the strange color perception is defined in a thorough, pseudoscientific way. The world is peppered with all those random details that make the Thursday Next series so enjoyable. In Eddie's world, spoon are scarce, the Greys eat all the bacon at breakfast, and killer lightning and giant swans are equally terrifying. A particular shade of green is a powerful painkiller, but is often abused.
This is the best of satire, fantasy, and coming-of-age stories all at once, a fresh and original start of what will undoubtedly be an amazing series.
Source disclosure: I purchased this book.