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Editorial Reviews

If you have not yet listened to one of the hundred stories voiced by award-winning narrator John Lee, or looked into one of the dozen books by best-selling author Jasper Fforde, you have been seriously missing out. If you are already a devotee of Lee or a fan of Fforde, the opening volley in this brave new series will not disappoint in the slightest. A dystopian vision in the vein of Orwell with the trademark comic sensibility Ffforde developed in his Thursday Next detective series, Shades of Grey introduces Eddie Russett: a naïve young man whose devotion to the Collective of the Colortocracy is upset by his sudden love for the cynical Jane Grey.

Jane’s grey status put her at the bottom of their society’s totem pole, and although Eddie’s red status doesn’t put him much higher, he has an above-average red color-perception that keeps him in the running to marry the snooty Constance Oxblood. In a world where you are what you see, Jane’s mysterious knowledge and headstrong attitude are a revelation. As Eddie winds his way through the color ranks on the fringes of the Collective, he learns that things are not always what they seem.

It takes a very versatile narrator to give voice to this broadly unusual society, and Lee narrates the cast of diversely colored characters with shocking ease and consistency. There are a dozen different English accents in here and twice as many tones, from the sly villainy of the Gamboge family to the whimsical librarian, Mrs. Lapis Lazuli, to the overbearing teen princess, Violet deMauve. Lee leaves no silly stone unturned as he dances around the often hilarious and exclamatory dialogue with precision. He is undoubtedly up to the task of steering Eddie through the challenges that he will face as this new series progresses, having already brought to light and life a number of strange citizens, arbitrary rules, and paradoxical happenings. Thanks to John Lee, getting to know Jasper Fforde’s new world is a completely non-stop delight — what will be painful is waiting for the next installment. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

As long as anyone can remember, society has been ruled by a Colortocracy. From the underground feedpipes that keep the municipal park green to the healing hues viewed to cure illness to a social hierarchy based upon one's limited color perception, society is dominated by color. In this world, you are what you can see.

Young Eddie Russett has no ambition to be anything other than a loyal drone of the Collective. With his better-than-average red perception, he could well marry Constance Oxblood and inherit the string works; he may even have enough red perception to make prefect.

For Eddie, life looks colorful. Life looks good.But everything changes when he moves with his father, a respected swatchman, to East Carmine. There, he falls in love with a Grey named Jane who opens his eyes to the painful truth behind his seemingly perfect, rigidly controlled society.

Curiosity - a dangerous trait to display in a society that demands total conformity - gets the better of Eddie, who beings to wonder: Why are there not enough spoons to go around? Why is everything - and everyone - barcoded? What happened to all the people who never returned from High Saffron? And why, when you begin to question the world around you, do black-and-white certainties reduce themselves to shades of grey?

Part satire, part romance, part revolutionary thriller, this is the new world from the creative and comic genius of Jasper Fforde.

©2009 Jasper Fforde; (P)2009 Penguin

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  • Overall

Read this book

Fforde has written a humorous book in his quirky and other-worldish style on a serious topic. First I thought it was a critique of the British aristocracy but decided towards the end that it is Orwell's "1984" done in a far less dark style. It is very entertaining and will keep you glued. It is a love story and a David against Goliath story in the style of his character, Thursday Next, (from other books), as she battled against the Goliath Corpoaration.

I finished this book and then immediately listened to it again. I had missed so many clues to what would happen and got a lot out of it the 2nd time. Clearly Fforde has written a 3 part series and couldn't release the first one until he was sure that he had set things up properly.

This has the potential to become a literary classic. I cannot wait for the subsequent books.

John Lee is also recognized for his outstanding ability to voice different characters.

19 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • Roger
  • Elkhorn, WI, USA
  • 01-09-10

Slow, weird... but a good set-up for sequels.

It isn't as quick, funny, or easy to like as his earlier novels. Yet I have great expectations of the sequels. As far as I can understand, this book is called "Shades of Grey 1: The Road to High Saffron and will continue in two (as yet unwritten) novels called Shades of Grey 2: Painting by Numbers and Shades of Grey 3: The Gordini Protocols.

This book is the exposition, the set-up for other books and, is therefore, a single book, a bit lame. And so, if I were you, I might listen to this book when the others come out. It reminded me a bit of Brave New World or 1984... at first it seems just weird and arbitrary that the author has a society based upon what colors people can see. There is injustice and unfairness and brainlessness among the people in the "system." It seems a bit of a retread of other older satires... but slowly it comes into focus and starts to bends off-kilter in new ways. I want to know more about this book's world and the characters in it.

The main character is smart but not very thoughtful... at one point another character looks into his eyes to find out if he really has no depth and she decides, that yes, he is empty headed. (Readers will agree at that point.)
It is slow but I was never bored ... I kept listening to discover if the author might finally takes us somewhere and by the end, I think we are set up and teased for some really interesting sequels.

32 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • Cherry
  • Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 06-10-10

Funny dystopia fiction at its best

I have to admit I'd never heard of Jasper Fforde before finding this novel on Audible. Therefore I can't compare it to his previous works, but I don't think that's necessary.

This is just SUCH a stand alone master piece I don't know where to begin. It has the perfect touch of Douglas Adam's humour with a very Huxley style dystopia. It's highly reminiscent of Brave New World for me but with added gags and a very British comedy.

The writing is superbly paced and never slow. It does take a while for the twists to be revealed, but that is what kept me enthralled with the story the whole time. There was such an undercurrent of creepy disrest that you just know something is around the corner to shock you.

With a brilliant twist and poignancy at the end for the main characters it leads into a series beautifully. I can't wait for Fforde to release the follow up.

As for the narration I'm really surprised to read reviews saying that there's no way to tell the difference between the characters. The reason John Lee is one of my favourite (and very acclaimed) narrators is his ability to distinguish different voices without being overly dramatic and silly about it. It might be too subtle for some people? But his use of different regional accents and tones is just perfect for my ears. I love listening to the books he narrates while I work so the fact that I never get confused between the characters even while working away should be testament to his skill as a narrator.

I simply cannot wait for the next book and I hope when it's made into audible form it will be John Lee narrating.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 12-22-12

Truth through an absurd prism

Shades of Grey takes place in an absurd dystopia that resembles a mix of Brave New World, Kafka, and Monty Python. In the book's reality, it's centuries after some ill-defined cataclysm, and the world is now full of strange things like living roads, man-eating trees, small gravity-defying relics, and wandering balls of electrical energy. More significantly, humans are now divided by their ability to see different parts of the color spectrum, and some colors have interesting physiological effects when looked at.

The characters of the novel live in a dysfunctional collectivist society that assigns social standing by color, has a less-than-awe-inspiring Big Brother figure, and is bound by all sorts of ridiculous, Kafka-esque rules -- e.g. cars aren't allowed, except for Model Ts; everyone must pretend that certain people don't exist; and manufacture of spoons is forbidden (turning them into a valuable “beige market” good). The protagonist, Eddie Russet, is a guileless young man determined to be a good citizen and secure himself a socially advantageous marriage to a certain tiresome young lady. At least, he is until he meets an low-caste young "grey" named Jane, whose brand of civil disobedience might be better called just "disobedience".

Fforde's sensibilities are an interesting mix of laugh-out-loud-funny and a bit dark. There's a lot of subversive fun mixing the social rigidity of its characters with their self-serving schemes to exploit loopholes in the rules and/or manipulate others, but there's also a discomfiting bite in the obliviousness with which most of them accept (or even embrace) their society's injustice and warped logic. Humorous or grim, though, I enjoyed Fforde's inventiveness and the process of discovering how everything in the world fit together, which held a few hints at the larger history. From time to time, we get Canticle for Leibowitz-esque references to things left behind after the collapse of our own world, interpreted in a way that's half loopy, half insightful.

That said, the overall story, themes, and writing aren't quite as original as the setting. Towards the end, things start to fall into molds that'll be familiar to readers of more traditional escapist fiction, which leaves some of the initial potential for satire and mind-bending on the table. Still, I liked the creativity quite a lot, and who knows what Fforde might do with the forthcoming sequel.

It's my firm opinion that you have to pick up the audiobook to really get the full effect of the cheeky British humor. The untroubled tone the narrator gives to Eddie (speaking as he is from inside a carnivorous tree) is an amusing fit, as are the voices of several other characters.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephanie
  • SPRING, TX, United States
  • 10-17-11

What a delightful book!

I've really never read much fantasy (if you don't count Harry Potter) so I wasn't sure if I could really get into a book like Shades of Grey, but it was terrific.

Eddie Russett lives in a world where everyone is color-blind and people are segregated by the color they can see. Volumes and volumes of rules exist in this dystopian world to keep everyone in line--and to keep the reader laughing. On his way to East Carmine to do a chair census, Eddie and his father, a doctor-type who heals with color swatches, find a dying man misrepresenting his color and mystery begins.

With each chapter Fforde molds his fascinating world and reveals just enough detail to make you want more and more. And John Lee is the perfect narrator, giving voice to all the eccentric characters. I found myself taking a long Sunday drive just to hear more of this great adventure. A new favorite. Highly recommended!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Ashley
  • Valencia , CA, USA
  • 06-12-10

Wonderful work from a fascinating novelist

No, it's not another Next novel, and though the world Fforde created here is more dark, this book was incredibly interesting. It's a bit apocolyptic, a lot quirky, and a completely new society from Fforde. If you loved the sort-of-kind-of-same-as-ours world Thursday Next inhabits, you should enjoy this book full of puns and cleverly named characters. The narrator was lovely too (I'm surprised other reviewers criticized his work to be honest); I also hope it's the start of a series. It's worth the buy, and I'd actually give the novel 4 1/2 stars if I could!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Jenn
  • Gardnerville, NV United States
  • 09-23-13

Humorous Dystopia at its Best

Let's start by saying this is the most humorous dystopian novel I have ever read. It is silly and poignant, and dry and witty, and slow and endearing. The best way I can describe this book is that Shades of Grey is what the result would be if Douglas Adams had attempted to write 1984. It does take a bit to get into the plot and to care about the characters, but it is worth it. I suspect part of the reason that it's a bit slow at first is that Fforde never beats the reader over the head with this society and how it works and how it differs from ours; he lets you absorb it slowly, organically, and that takes time. Time well spent.

I'm so glad that there are to be more books in this series because I'm not ready to leave this society and these characters behind. I'm willing to wait for a good long time, which is fortunate since even though this book was published years ago, there is no set publication date for the next in the series.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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a different look at the world

I thoroughly enjoyed both the premise and the book and will be looking forward to a reread and to the sequel. The narration was good and fairly easy to follow, always an issue with a book set in a foreign place and time. The puns and comments on our society are well worth the listen.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Loved the book

I've been a fan of Jasper Fforde since his first novel and have listened to them all on audible. This story is different than his others, and was a little harder to get into initially, but in the end it was very well worth it. I can't wait for more in the series.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Brandon
  • La Porte, TX, United States
  • 03-17-10

Darkest Fforde.

I wasn't expecting a book this dark from Jasper Fforde. The characters were interesting. The post apoctolypitic world was intriguing and I honestly eagerly anticipate another book in this series. But the darkness caught me off guard and it wasn't what I was looking for when I picked up the book.

If you are expecting a less silly book than I think it's easily a four star book.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful