Ever since I picked up a copy of The Eyre Affair at a used bookstore in Chicago, I’ve been a bit obsessed with Jasper Fforde. Now on my second copy of The Eyre Affair (the first was lent and never returned) and with an addiction to the audio versions of his books as well, I hunger when I hear of a new publication.
I have been looking forward to Shades of Grey ever since the teaser went up on Fforde’s website. Unfortunately, the publication date was released, delayed, delayed again, and then finally established (of course, no matter when the release date is, it is always too far away). Lucky for me, the appearance of an advanced reader’s copy at the bookstore I work at meant no more waiting.
For those of you unfamiliar with Fforde’s work, he has written the Thursday Next series, the Nursery Crimes series, and now, Shades of Grey (the first in a trilogy). If you haven’t read Fforde before, start with the Thursday Next novels, move to Nursery Crime, an then pick up the newest. While Thursday Next is certainly my favorite, Fforde’s bizarre worlds and witty British humor are enjoyable in each of his series. Enough of this chatter- on to Shades of Grey.
Shades of Grey starts off slowly. Fforde’s new world is complex and confusing and it takes a good quarter of the book to establish an understanding of world and how it works. This initial section sets up the entirety of the book and if you hang in there, you will be rewarded. Fforde’s new world is wonderful; it has amazing potential which I hope will be reached in the sequels now that the whole messy business of explaining things is over.
The protagonist, Eddie Russett, is a fine, upstanding young man who truly wants the best for people. While he is not the sharpest tack in the tin, he understands the purpose of rules and governments, and how they can be used or abused. His easy going and generally genial nature allows him to befriend a host of individuals. Jane balances him well. She is smart, knowledgeable, volatile, and emotional. Together they create a dynamic pair who you hope will succeed in their plans (which I will not reveal to you).
With an intricate new world, endearing characters, and a political problem to be solved, Shades of Grey is a novel exploring the evils and corruption of governments and societies. But this intense science-fiction is tempered by Fforde’s delightful humor, so even those fictioneers who scoff at utopian novels may find something to love.