It’s Great Britain very far into the future. Democracy/Monarchy has been replaced by Colourtocracy: People are classified by the colours they are able to see. Greys are the lowest of the low, not being able to see any natural colours. The highest up the ladder are the Purples. The complete societal order is based on one book that is followed to the letter.
Eddie Russett is a Red. He is sent to a remote city as a punishment to conduct a chair census. When he meets the Grey Jane, his natural curiousity gets amplified by her defiance and he starts to question the status quo more and more.
Shades of Grey doesn’t have a lot of plot but is more concerned with the world building and the setting of the stage for the next novels in the series. But since it is a very interesting world and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in SciFi, I didn’t have a problem with that.
It’s rather hard to sum up this world, so let me give you a quote:
The ‘Standard Variable’ procedure was in place to allow minor changes of the Rules. The most obvious example was the ‘Children under ten are to be given a glass of milk and a smack at 11 a.m.’ rule, which for almost two hundred years was interpreted as the literal Word of Munsell, and children were given a glass of milk, anf then clipped around the ear. It took a brave Prefect to point out – tactfully, of course – that this was doubtless a spelling mistake, and should have read ‘snack’. It was blamed on a scribe’s error rather than Rule Fallibility and the Variable was adopted. Most loopholes and Leapback circumvention were based on Standard Variables. Another good example would be the train we were riding on now. Although ‘The Railways’ had been banned during Leapback III, a wily travel officer had postulated that a singular railway was still allowable – hence the gyro-stabilised inverted monorail in current usage. It was loopholery at its very best.
It is fascinating: Fforde takes one idea (absolute colourtocracy) and runs with it, imagining a whole world in all its complexity based on that.
Unfortunately, with the focus so much on the world building, the characters fall a little flat, with the exception of Eddie. But then again, I loved Eddie so much that I’m willing to forgive this.
Fforde tells his story with a sly sense of humour. While never making me laugh out loud, I did grin a whole damn lot.
Anyway, it’s an exciting world and now that the world is firmly established, I’m confident that the plot will pick up its pace as well. I for one, will be looking forward to the next book.