Want to read a dystopic novel with a twist? Read Jasper Fforde’s Shades Of Grey: The Road To High Saffron where the color you see determines your career path, marriage options, and social standing in The Collective. The Rule Book controls everything in this hue-based world from what clothes to wear for any given occasion to what’s on the menu at the local tavern. An imaginative novel, Fforde weaves thought-provoking observations about the facades we accept as infallible truths with dry, flippant humor. In Shades Of Grey , it’s a head-spinning mashup among George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Not since reading Walter Jon Williams’ Aristoi many, many years ago have I had to consciously bend my mind and work at understanding how a fictional society functions. Reading Fforde’s Shades Of Grey requires patience to understand this foreign world. I had to slow my reading down to piece information together and puzzle things out as the story unfolded. As a result, I found Shades Of Grey a much slower read than I initially anticipated. Fforde’s book reminded me that a supremely fantastical setting and humor-driven narrative doesn’t necessarily mean that the story’s a light, fluffy read.
While I enjoyed learning about all of the social intricacies in The Collective, I found the overall plot slow. I found myself becoming impatient with Fforde explaining how everything worked from the dinner and lunch queues to unpacking luggage. He presents mysteries for Eddie to investigate, but takes a long time to get the action rolling. About halfway through the book (give or take) the pace dramatically speed up. I also found some of the terminology in Shades Of Grey unclear. For example, Leapbacks. I had to re-read certain sections multiple times to understand what Fforde meant by Leapbacks. And I’m still not sure that I have a clear understanding about what they are in this book. I also think that Fforde rushed the ending of the book. He spends a lot of time building the world up, establishing characters, and defining the society’s problems, but everything’s solved in a rush.
Overall, I liked Jasper Fforde’s Shades Of Grey: The Road To High Saffron and the utter novelty of The Collective. It seems to me that dystopic novels are popular now, and I’m impressed with Fforde’s skill at creating a dystopic novel that’s so imaginative–for me it stands apart and alone from all the others out there on the bookshelves. If you enjoy puzzles and want to explore a fresh, new fictional world, read Shades Of Grey, you won’t regret it. Just have patience in hand.