It's hundreds of years into the future and things are a lot different, but not in the way you'd imagine. In Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde, The Collective strictly controls the lives of it's citizens, everything from when they eat to the careers they will have for the rest of their lives is written out in The Rules. And there is a rule for everything.
2.3.06.02.087: Unnecessary sharpening of pencils constitutes a waste of public resources, and will be punished as appropriate.No one questions The Rules. The Rules are there for the protection of the people and there must be a good reason for every one no matter how silly or counterproductive it seems. Rules like the one that dictates the Great Leapbacks, where technology is gradually outlawed (they're down to Model T's at this point). Breaking of The Rules leads to demerits, and too many demerits lands you in Reboot (a type of prison) and no one wants to go there.
There is one important thing to wrap your head around in Shades of Grey: the social and financial hierarchy is determined by what colour a person is able to see. At the top are the bossy Yellows and the Greys are at the bottom.
Eddie Russett is a Red on his way up. He's been courting a High Red and has plenty of merits. Everything was coming up roses until a prank landed him on Chair Census duty in the Outer Fringes of East Carmine. East Carmine isn't quite what he's used to. It's like the wild west. The people indulge in Loopholery to get around The Rules and the officials are corrupt. The disregard for The Rules shocks Eddie but not as much as he's shocked by Jane Grey. She's not like any Grey he's ever met before. She's belligerent and threatening. She's rebellious and he's falling for her.
Jane is about to show him a side of the world he's never seen before. Jane has Eddie asking himself and others questions about the world they live in. In The Collective questions are dangerous.
I didn't think I could like a Jasper Fforde novel as much as I liked the Tuesday Next series but I absolutely loved Shades of Grey. It is strange and weird. I had to stop reading frequently at first because reading it made my brain hurt. There was a lot of world building at the beginning that had me confused but by the time I got to the second half of the book, I couldn't put it down.
Eddie's an interesting character. At first, he's willing to fall in with what the world has planned for him even if it doesn't make him happy. Jane makes him realize that he isn't like everyone else. Shades of Grey has some of the most aggressive female characters in literature. Most of the male characters are afraid of them. I loved that!
Just like in his previous novels, there is silliness but the book does take on a darker tone toward the end. You can laugh at how the people in The Collective divide themselves but think of the ways in which people divide themselves today: race, religion, culture, politics. A future generation may find our divisions just as ridiculous.
This is just the first of a trilogy and I cannot wait until the next one, Painting by Numbers, comes out.
Highly, highly recommended.
I won Shades of Grey through the Penguin Book Club. Thanks!