Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde compares to nothing I’ve ever read before, in a way that was very welcome. I picked it up because I read Fforde’s Big Idea piece on Scalzi’s blog and liked his idea of focusing on what happens after the apocalypse. In fact, the characters just call it The Something That Happened and don’t know why their lives are different from the Previous. And they don’t know much about the Previous either, thanks to scheduled Leapbacks that remove knowledge and relics from the past, some of them as simple as multi-speed bicycles. I could go on forever about the worldbuilding, because it completely fascinated me.
I have to talk about the color specifically though. Color is everything in this world. People are divided into social ranks according to what colors they can see. Who they marry is largely determined by what their combined color ratings will do for their offspring. For instance, Eddie Russet, the protagonist, is a Red trying to marry into the Oxbloods, an old Red family that wants to increase their red percentage. It’s crazy-sounding, but with a little thought it’s not that different from marrying for money or some other kind of prestige.
Despite the fixation on color, Eddie’s world is very black and white. He lives in a rigid society that is completely dedicated to the Rules. He knows his duty and he does it, both as a member of society and as a young man looking for the best marriage. But he soon finds out that there’s a lot more underneath his orderly world than he ever guessed. And he finds that he’s willing to risk more than he realized to find out the truth.
Shades of Grey is a meticulously constructed book that was a fascinating exploration of a very different kind of post-apocalyptic world and the decisions we face when we confronted with a shift in worldview. I’m looking forward to the sequels, and I think I need to check out some of Fforde’s other work as well.
Update: Also, if you like the book, definitely check out the Shades of Grey website. Barcoded animals! Lincoln green! You’ll just have to read the book to truly get it.