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Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron    by Jasper Fforde order for
Shades of Grey
by Jasper Fforde
Order:  USA  Can
Viking, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Jasper Fforde has outdone himself this time with Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron. In this first of a new series, instead of tackling and twisting ideas about the written word, Fforde turns to something a little more freeform color. This new world is beyond belief but it is still thought out to the slightest nuance, showing what a master worldbuilder Fforde is.

In the distant future, after the Something That Happened, the world changed drastically, as did the people inhabiting it. New class divisions formed, based solely on the amount of natural color an individual can see. Eddie Russet and his father Holden are being sent from their conformist city of Jade-Under-Lime to East Carmine in the Outer Fringes: Holden to replace their current swatchsman (town doctor) who died recently under rather mysterious circumstances, and Eddie to conduct a chair census (the useful work intended to teach him humility after he played a prank on the head prefect's son).

On their way to East Carmine, they stop at Vermillion, the capital of the Red Sector, and do some sightseeing. While they are there, a Purple collapses in the Nation Color synthetic paint store and Holden, being the closest swatchman, tries to revive him. When nothing works, he realizes the man is wrongspotted (a highly unorthodox crime) and is actually a Grey. Eddie notices another Grey nearby, one with a very attractive nose. He tries to question her, and she threatens him.

On the train to East Carmine, Eddie meets a Yellow who is escaping from the Night Train to Reboot, the place those who do not comply with the rules are sent to retrain their thinking. In East Carmine, the Russets are sent to their house which has strange tenants on the top floor. Jane, the Grey whom Eddie met in Vermillion, is assigned to be their housekeeper, and Eddie quickly makes powerful enemies by trying to follow the rules. Through Jane, who still threatens him every chance she gets, Eddie learns the real reason he was sent to the Outer Fringes and he also learns his world is not what it seems very far from it, in fact.

The Shades of Grey world is highly inventive. The idea of people being sorted based on the colors they can see - and having their station in life determined by it - takes concepts we know and really spins them on their head. While there is some class system and social divide today, there is nothing as widespread as what Fforde imagines in this new, future world.

As well as a fantastic world, Fforde creates memorable characters. Eddie is a wonderful protagonist. He always tries to do what he is told and aims for a top spot in society, but has some ideas of his own which do not jive with the rules. Jane is a rebel who does not care about her place in the world. She has much more pressing concerns (to which only a select few are privy) for she knows the truth about society. Together, these two form a team, playing off each other nicely, constantly helping to advance the plot and bring the reader deeper into Fforde's world.

This first Shades of Grey novel - which is called The Road to High Saffron though you will only find that inside the book - is the start of what could well be Jasper Fforde's best series yet. Fforde is a master storyteller and one who must be read.

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