Excerpt from Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Shades of Grey

By Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey

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Dad and I bartered like this for a while, and he eventually agreed to visit all of the town’s attractions but in a circular manner, to save on shoe leather. The rabbit came last, after the color garden.

So, having conceded to at least include the rabbit in the morning’s entertainment, Dad returned to his toast, tea and copy of Spectrum as I looked idly about the shabby breakfast room, seeking inspiration for the postcard I was writing. The Green Dragon dated from before the Epiphany and, like much of the Collective, had seen many moments, each of them slightly more timeworn than the one before. The paint in the room was peeling, the plaster molding was dry and crumbly, the linoleum tabletops were worn to the canvas and the cutlery was either bent, broken or missing.

But the hot smell of toast, coffee and bacon, the flippant affability of the staff and the noisy chatter of strangers enjoying transient acquaintance gave the establishment a peculiar charm that the reserved, eminently respectable tearooms back home in Jade- under- Lime could never match. I noticed also that despite the lack of any Rules regarding seat plans in “ non- hue- specific” venues, the guests had unconsciously divided the room along strictly Chromatic lines. The one Ultraviolet was respectfully given a table all to himself, and several Greys stood at the door waiting patiently for an empty table even though there were places available. We were sharing our table with a Green couple. They were of mature years and wealthy enough to wear artificially green clothes so that all could witness their enthusiastic devotion to their hue, a proudfully expensive and tastelessly ostentatious display that was doubtless financed by the sale of their child allocation. Our clothes were dyed in a conventional shade visible only to other Reds, so to the Greens sitting opposite we had only our Red Spots to set us apart from the Greys, and were equally despised. When they say red and green are complementary, it doesn’t mean we like each other. In fact, the only thing that Reds and Greens can truly agree on is that we dislike Yellows more.

“You,” said the Green woman, pointing her spoon at me in an exceptionally rude manner, “fetch me some marmalade.”

I dutifully complied. The Green woman’s bossy attitude was not atypical. We were three notches lower in the Chromatic scale, which officially meant we were subservient. But although lower in the Order, we were still Prime within the long- established Red- Yellow- Blue Color Model, and a Red would always have a place in the village Council, something the Greens, with their bastard Blue- Yellow status could never do. It irritated them wonderfully. Unlike the dopey Oranges, who accepted their lot with a cheery, self- effacing good humor, Greens never managed to rise above the feeling that no one took them seriously enough. The reason for this was simple: They had the color of the natural world almost exclusively to themselves, and felt that the scope of their sight- gift should reflect their importance within the Collective. Only the Blues could even begin to compete with this uneven share of the Spectrum, as they owned the sky, but this was a claim based mainly on surface area rather than a variety of shades, and when it was overcast, they didn’t even have that.

But if I thought she was ordering me about solely due to my hue, I was mistaken. I was wearing a NEEDS HUMILITY badge below my Red Spot. It related to an incident with the head prefect’s son, and I was compelled to wear it for a week. If the Green woman had been more reasonable, she would have excused me the errand due to the prestigious 1,000 MERITS badge that I also wore. Perhaps she didn’t care. Perhaps she just wanted the marmalade. I fetched the jar from the sideboard, gave it to the Green, nodded respectfully, then returned to the postcard I was writing. It was of Vermillion’s old stone bridge and had been given a light blue wash in the sky for five cents extra. I could have paid ten and had one with greened grass, too, but this was for my potential fiancée, Constance Oxblood, and she considered overcolorization somewhat vulgar. The Oxbloods were strictly old- color and preferred muted tones of paint wherever possible, even though they could have afforded to decorate their house to the highest chroma. Actually, much to them was vulgar, and that included the Russetts, whom they regarded as nouveau couleur. Hence my status as “potential fiancé.” Dad had negotiated what we called a “half promise,” which meant I was first- optioned to Constance. The agreement fell short of being reciprocal, but it was a good deal— a concession that, despite being a Russett and three generations from Grey, I might be able to see a goodly amount of red, so couldn’t be ignored completely.

Excerpted from Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Copyright © 2009 by Jasper Fforde. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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