First let me say, Fforde is one of my very very favorite authors, right up there with Douglas Adams, my very favorite author. Usually I rush right out & buy his newest book as soon as pre-order is available, but I held off on this one.
For nearly a year.
I’d heard this one was rather dark & dystopian and those are two words guaranteed to keep me from picking up a book.
Dark I can’t do. I have insomnia. Dark stuff only makes it worse.
Dystopian is always so incredibly depressing. Happy, flying car futures rarely end up in books these days (And really if everyone is happy what would be plot be? Unhappy people planning to destroy the happiness? I suppose that works but I guess people planning to destroy the unhappiness sells better). It’s always bleakness & misery as far as the eye can see, which, again, insomnia…worse…so I avoid it.
But it is Jasper Fforde so there will be wittiness and humor right? Probably?
I couldn’t bring myself to buy a book I might never convince myself to start, let alone finish, so I passed when it came out. Bought SPQR XIII The Year of Confusion instead and was treated to a rather melancholy Decius relating a mysterious murder of an astrologist right before Caesar was assassinated. Not as much fun as previous SPQR novels, but not dark & dystopian either.
But a few weeks ago I downloaded a sample of Shades of Grey on my Kindle. Three chapters were unlikely to unsettle my insomnia and they didn’t. They were intriguing. Not intriguing enough to pay $12.99 but intriguing enough that when the book appeared on the New Acquisitions shelves at the library a week later, I brought it home. I considered to thoughtfully for a few days.
The thing I knew was, I would either hate it by chapter 7 or I would be thoroughly engrossed and unable to put it down until I finished it. Given the size of the book I was looking at a good 7-8 hours of solid reading, for a first reading. The second reading (which is a must with Fforde’s books because you WILL miss things the first time through) could probably be done in 2-3 smaller sessions over a few days.
So I had to wait until yesterday, when I was relatively certain there were no plans & Dh would be watching football, thereby providing the demons with food & general supervision in the living room.
I love Jasper Fforde’s books but all of them leave me wishing I knew just a bit more about ...something. Thursday Next makes me wish I knew more great literature. The Nursery Crimes leave me wishing I knew more nursery rhymes & fables. This one left me really wishing I had a better grasp, or any grasp really, of Welsh geography. His books always make me feel like I would 'get' it better if I just lived in Wales or had a PhD in English Lit. It doesn't detract at all from the enjoyment of the story but it's a mental background distraction while reading.
Really, I felt from about chapter 5 that a map of Wales would be useful. Not because it was necessary from a plot standpoint (Wales is never mentioned, just one tiny hint given) but I’m fairly sure the amount of geographical detail of the area surrounding East Carmine & High Saffron are based on reality & I suspect one of them is Cardiff but I’m not good with maps,especially topographic ones, so a map would have done me no good really. Seeing the area itself might though.
This story took a bit to get started. There is a lot of background development & world building, but you get no more information than the main character knows. What was the Something That Happened? Why Oz? Is a RISK game board really what they base their knowledge of the Previous world map on? What started the highly structured collective? How did they get people to go along with it? What the heck is Perpetulite? and what about the feared Mildew? Why no spoons?
But once Eddie Russet & his dad arrive in East Carmine on the edges of civilized society so Eddie can complete his Lesson in Humility by conducting a chair census and his dad start work as the substitute Chromatician, the story gets moving. We meet a variety of characters & learn about Chromapolitics and the stratification of society. Your color is your destiny. Blues are clumsy, Yellows are controling, Purples are arrogant, Greys are the overworked lower class. Oranges & Greens seem rare in East Carmine so we don’t learn much about them. Plus we learn about all the many many rules that make up daily life in this world. Including the appropriate tie knot you should wear in specific circumstances.
Eddie makes friends and enemies, falls in love with Jane, and risks his life on his way to discovering many things about himself and about the society he has unquestioningly lived in all his life. Overall it was a good beginning a 3 book series, little weak on plot but certainly a good starting point. I look forward to the next one. Though 2014 is a long way away.
So, that was a lot of lead up for a short & not very detailed review wasn’t it?
See. The thing about this book is I can’t tell you about it in any way that would make any sense to you if you haven’t read it. Eddie’s crime? That got him sent off to count chairs? The radical idea that a single queue feeding multiple stations might be more efficient than the multiple stations each with its own queue model currently in use. You need more context for it really than I can give.
It is really a very fascinating world and Jasper Fforde’s imagination must be an incredible place. I highly recommend it.