Shades of Grey: the Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde
Of all the possible "Shades of Grey" novels in the world, Jasper Fforde's is arguably the most original. Fforde, the man behind two highly creative ongoing series, Thursday Next and Nursery Crime Division, is a prolific, inventive writer with a knack for enveloping his readers in strangely familiar worlds that are comfortable and recognizable, but juuuust eerie and off-putting enough that you know they're fated to fall apart.
Fforde's dystopian world of Chromatacia is divided by a hierarchy of hues (a Colortocracy), with those members of each group being able to see a disparagingly limited amount of natural colors. Our narrator, Eddie Russett, is a red and aside from synthetic colors generated to be seen by everyone, he can only see various shades of his house hue. The grass, the sky, a daffodil all appear black, gray, or white to him unless they are synthetically colorized to be seen by every person in the hierarchy except the achromatic greys. The motto of this color divided world? Apart we are together. It's clear that the residents of Chromatacia aren't exactly human — their pupils never dilate, so no one can see in the dark. The other weird thing is that viewing specific color swatches can heal sicknesses, while others can offer narcotic-like sensations, make one hear symphonic music, and even quicken or cause death.
In addition to the segregation of color perceptions, Eddie's world strictly adheres to rules, which from our viewpoint as readers are ridiculously arbitrary. For example, no new spoons can ever be manufactured, so like titles and estates, spoons are passed down when elderly family members die. No one can marry a complementary color, so Eddie knows better than to fall for a green girl. Greys, people with no natural color perception, are relegated to a life of menial labor and are undesirable marriage partners. Most disturbingly, the world has no facts — the rules are the only facts that society thinks are necessary for its citizens to know.
Eddie has lived his whole life observing the harmony of the Colortocracy's status quo, but when he's sent to the Outer Fringes of society, the delicate weave of the rules begins to fray and unravel. He meets a vicious, violent, lovely Grey girl named Jane, a man who by the rules can be seen by everyone but must be treated as if he doesn't exist, and enough rule benders to realize that the insignificant weight of a question is enough to make the entire system break.
This book marks the start of a new Fforde series (YESSS!), with the publication date of book 2, Shades of Grey: Painting by Numbers as yet unannounced.
Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron is available throughout our system in hardcover, large-print hardcover, MP3 playaway, and audio book, as well as downloadable e-book and audiobook formats through the Wisconsin Digital Library.
-Abby, Reference Librarian