Bookmarks Issue: 

A-ShadesGreyShades of Grey is the first book in a new series by Jasper Fforde, author of the popular Thursday Next novels.

The Story: Britain has seen its share of dystopian stories—1984, V for Vendetta—as well as post-apocalyptic tales—Children of Men, 28 Days Later. But perhaps only the mind of Jasper Fforde could produce a world where social rank is measured by the Munsell Color System. In the far future, human beings are deprived of the ability to see all colors but one. Everyone’s color is different, and its position on the chromatic scale determines one’s social rank (with Purples being the highest and those who can see no color at all—the despised Greys—at the bottom). Eddie Russett, a lowly Red, had been planning to marry another of his caste when an innocent comment leads to a brutally absurd punishment by the Colortocracy: counting chairs. But in completing his task he meets a rebellious Grey who questions the basis of their society and pulls Eddie into an unexpected adventure.
Viking. 400 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780670019632.

Onion AV Club 4 of 5 Stars
"Fforde is an author of immense imagination. … [He] winningly mingles enforced orderliness with a Brazil-esque bureaucracy that spawns the highly regarded art of ‘loopholery’ in order to get anything done. The coming-of-age story and manic-pixie-dream-girl romance don’t need to be much more than icing on the cake to make Shades Of Grey a fancifully satisfying concoction." Donna Bowman

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"When The Eyre Affair was published in 2001, Fforde became to crime fiction what [Douglas] Adams was to science fiction. … With Shades of Grey, Fforde moves closer to genuine science fiction. … The story moves slowly at times, but even when Fforde gets bogged down in description, you marvel at the imagination that could create a world so bizarre, yet so complete and convincing." Jeffrey Westhoff

Portland Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As the first in a series of at least three volumes, Shades of Grey raises the questions and sets up the problems. Getting to the point of takeoff is a little bumpier this time around. But narratively and psychologically, volume one ends with a doozy of a cliffhanger. I can’t wait to see what comes next." Bob Hicks

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"This insanely clever novel from the author of the best-selling Thursday Next series sounds like a cult classic for people who crave a rich brew of dystopic fantasy and deadpan goofiness. … As a satire of planned economies and repressive governments, Shades of Grey reaches toward 1984, but thematically it isn’t as profound as its clever props suggest. … Both the thrills and the romantic comedy pick up during the final quarter, but as much as it hurts to say it, color me disappointed." Ron Charles

Guardian (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"I’d say you need to fall at least a little in love with [Fforde’s] world-building to enjoy the novel, since other novelistic pleasures are thinner on the ground. The first 250 pages are narratively underpowered and rather diffuse. … The second half is more gripping, and a climactic expedition to collect colour from a deserted town becomes page-turningly exciting." Adam Roberts

Critical Summary

Reviewers who raved about Shades of Grey as well as those who were less enthusiastic tended to agree that readers’ love for the book will depend on how much they enjoy the zany world that Fforde sketches out in this first book of a new trilogy. Fans of Fforde’s other work seemed to have little problem with the novel’s bias toward exposition instead of plot, since world-building is what they enjoy. Critics note that Fforde fans should be prepared for a more subtle sense of humor in Shades of Grey compared to the Thursday Next series. Even the skeptics, though, found much to admire in the book—they just hoped that, having drawn us into the world of the Colortocracy, Fforde will develop a more gripping plot in books two and three.