Shades of Grey (no, not that one) should be a standard for sci-fi fantasy | Book Review

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde has the incredibly unfortunate fate of sharing 100% of it’s title with the garbage pile of words known as Fifty Shades of Grey. I wouldn’t be surprised that this terrible coincidence is the reason this masterpiece has yet to receive a follow-up (despite the last page saying the two main characters will return in two sequels).

It’s been eight years since it’s publication, so I really doubt Fforde will produce anything related to the series, but I’ll stay hopeful because Shades of Grey is one of the most creative, interesting stories I’ve read in years. The world building is awe-inspiring and, I dare say, rivals the universe of Harry Potter.

It’s a novel that gives me exactly what I want out of fiction – new, never-before-seen worlds. The utmost culmination of a person’s imagination into a story, world, and characters that leaves the readers wanting more. It’s a book that inspires me to write better.

Enough of my gushing, let’s get to it.

The Summary

Set in a world based on ours, but vastly different and 700 years in the future, Shades of Grey takes place in “Chromatacia;” where society is based entirely on colour and colour perception.

Our protagonist, Eddie Russet, also acts as our narrator. He’s been sent from his home to East Carmine in ‘the outer fringes,’ a small town on the very edge of society, to conduct a chair census. With him his is father, a ‘swatchman;’ a doctor who shows patients different shades of colour to cure illnesses.

Russet is a ‘Red,’ the second lowest colour preceptor on the scale just before ‘Greys;’ those unable to perceive any colour. His intentions are to marry up into a rich family so he may live the rest of his life peacefully.

Although things initially look fine and dandy in East Carmine, trouble is afoot. There’s been a murder, written off as a suicide, and the higher-ups in the village are covering it up via abuse of power. And all of it relates back to a Grey named ‘Jane’ who Russet is strangely attracted to.

The meat of Shades of Grey is unraveling lighthearted mysteries in East Carmine. I say ‘lighthearted’ because there’s never a strong sense of urgency. Rather, Russet is simply curious, as the ways of the outer fringes are different to what he knows from his hometown. As they say, however, curiosity killed the cat.

I won’t go too into detail of the plot, as it is a fascinating read. I would recommend any book-lover find Shades of Grey to enjoy for themselves.

The Good

As I said in the opening, Shades of Grey is wonderfully creative. I can’t say I’ve read every book that’s ever been published, but I’ve yet to read (or even hear about) a book that’s taken a universal concept – the colours in a rainbow – and build such an amazing world.

It’s truly unfortunate that there have yet to be any sequels, as there are concepts that are not fully explained. Besides the greater world mystery of “how did humans evolve to only perceive one colour,” there are smaller questions I’m interested in. Why are swans feared? Why is lightning so prevalent? Why are postal codes scarred into a person’s body? And so on and so on.

It’s the kind of book I’d love an almanac to, where I could just read about the policies of the government or the history of ‘The Rules;’ a set of (bizarre) rules all members of Chromatacia follow.

Shades of Grey has good, light comedy. Fforde is a Welsh author, so some of the humour is probably lost on me. If there is satire on Welsh culture (or the U.K. in general), it went over my head, but I still see the absurdity of the world Fforde created. For example, all production of spoons has ceased, thus spoons are a coveted item. Where does an author get such an idea? I love it!

The narration is perfect for such a story. Russet is the ‘new kid in town,’ so we the readers get a lot of unforced exposition. It’s a fine way to explain the insanity of the world. How else would you describe that lunch is mandatory at a communal cafeteria? And it’s an easy way to introduce new characters.

I love the names in Shades of Grey, because it makes it easy to remember a person’s hue. All names are based on colour. Russet (like rust) is a red. Violet deMauve is a purple. Bunty McMustard is a yellow. Jade-Under-Lime is a town in the green sector. Etc. Etc. It’s fun! I can totally see Tumblr running with this via coloursonas, if this book ever caught on.

I like how every new chapter begins with a rule, showcasing the insanity of the world, reinforcing an understanding of the world, but also relating it to the contents of that chapter.

I like the subtle hints to our world. I won’t ruin one brilliant joke mid-way through the novel, but it relates to a map and it’s on point in it’s absurdity.

I like all the characters. The important ones are surprisingly memorable, considering there’s a good number of them. They all have distinct personality so it’s easy to tell who’s talking during dialogue.

The cover art is very cool and grabbing. I’m confident a lot of people must’ve picked up this novel strictly because of the cool cover art.

Honestly, I just really like Shades of Grey. I don’t like picking ‘favourites’ in things, but damn this would be the first book I’d suggest to something. Hands down.

The Bad

I may be bias, but there’s almost nothing I disliked about Shades of Grey. The only thing that really made me pucker my lips in sourness was the inclusion of a field hockey game. Although it’s a critical point in the story – as it’s a set up for major events – I find it’s rushed. Almost like it’s an excuse to get those major events rolling.

I’ll admit, it is set up earlier in the story, so it’s not out of nowhere, but it still felt obtrusive.

The biggest ‘bad’ of Shades of Grey is that Fforde hasn’t ponied up to the two sequels promised on the last page. With the way things are left at the end, trust me when I say it’s annoying there’s been no follow-up in the eight years since it’s been published.

I’m fascinated by the sequel ‘Shades of Grey 2: Paint by Numbers.’ That’s a great title!! Based on the end of book one, I kinda know what book two entails, so I really wanna read more! C’mon Jasper Fforde, stop whatever you’ve been doing since 2009 and pick this back up!!

Doing some sleuthing, Fforde’s website says the sequels were supposed to release in 2016?? Too late for that I guess. And another website says 2018. Looks like no one really knows, but there are intentions. Supposedly…

(Also, here’s a link to a comment that has some good info regarding sequels)


Final Thoughts

I’ve basically laid out all my cards throughout this review. I love the book and I want more. I think it’s wonderfully creative and could have numerous spinoffs and sequels before the world is so ripe with imagination.

Fforde has another, much longer, series called Thursday Next which, based on the small description at the back of Shades of Grey sounds like it’s worth some sort of read. Something about a detective who lives both in and outside ‘bookworld,’ I suppose I can get behind that.

Final Rating


A must-read, but waiting on sequels to expand story.


4 thoughts on “Shades of Grey (no, not that one) should be a standard for sci-fi fantasy | Book Review

  1. Oooh thank you for the heads up! I’ll take a peek too.
    Although I’m living in a hotel…I need to move into my new flat and find the library in my new city first!!


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