A future world, Chromatacia, after the "Something That Happened" is run by the Colourtocracy and the collective are ordered into chromatic hierarchies, based on the limited colour that they can see see. Eddie Russett, nineteen years old, is a Red and there is nothing that he can do to change that; the test, your Ishihara, doesn't lie and you can't cheat the Colourman. Reds are only one shade above Grey, the worker bees of the collective, and it is crucial to Eddie and his family's standing to marry up within his part of the colour spectrum; some people marry for love but more often marriages are arranged or auctioned and nobody ever marries a complementary colour. Eddie is on a "half-promise" to marry Constance Oxblood until he and his father, a Swatchman (medical man who heals using swatches of healing hues applied directly to the retina) are sent to East Carmine on the Outer Fringes, for Eddie to attain humility. In the Outer Fringes Eddie falls in love with a Grey named Jane, a tempestuous revolutionary who hates you mentioning her nose, and begins to question the Rulebook. Questioning the Rulebook could earn a Reboot in the Emerald City but exactly what does that involve and are inquisitiveness and applying logical theory to queueing systems so harmful to the chromatic collective? Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde opens with Eddie about to be eaten by a carnivorous plant, an attempt by Jane to kill him, and his narrative recounts the previous four days' events that brought him to the deserted village of High Saffron and this inconvenient state of impending death.
In essence, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde is a Dystopian novel that contains, well, shades of classic Dystopian literature such as the futuristic Nineteen Eighty-Four, the nightmarish The Wizard of Oz and shares its carnivorous plants with John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids; however, where Fforde's other series of books are rich in literary allusion, he relies for the most part on his own inventiveness. Fforde has boundless creativity and imagination and his chromatic dystopia is highly original and intelligent. To begin with the detailed intricacies of this futuristic world and its dictionary of terms and Rules are a little hard to follow but it is such a vividly rendered world and engaging plot that one begins to see things the bursts of synthetic color and realise that things are not simply black and white, that there is a sinister undercurrent to the Colourtocracy, especially when you do not conform and exhibit any curiosity. Despite the departure from Fforde's usual alternative realities, that are a little more fantastical, and its more serious tone, Shades of Grey is hilarious; I love Fforde's satirical humour and often think that I am missing some of his intelligent jokes.
As well as immensely absorbing storyline and many laughs, Shades of Grey also contains moments of intense pathos; the last few chapters of the novel left me feeling unsettled yet also excited for the sequels and the last page had my heart in my mouth. For those who enjoy their Dystopias with a heart (think The Hunger Games) then read Shades of Grey; I also recommend it unreservedly to those who may not have been impressed by The Eyre Affair (I wasn't blown away by the debut but adored the remainder of the series), new to Fforde readers who enjoy witty original fiction and those readers who think they don't enjoy sci-fi.
But all doubts came to nought on the morning of your Ishihara. No one could cheat the Colourman and the colour test. What you got was what you were, forever. Your life, career and social standing decided right there and then, and all worrisome life uncertainties eradicated forever. You knew who you were, what you would do, where you would go and what was expected of you. In return, you simply accepted your position within the Colourtocracy, and assiduously followed the Rulebook. Your life was mapped. And all in the time it takes to bake a tray of scones.