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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  • Hardcover: Dec 2009,
    400 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2011,
    400 pages.

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A Morning in Vermillion

2.4.16.55.021: Males are to wear dress code #6 during inter-Collective travel. Hats are encouraged but not mandatory.

It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant. It wasn’t really what I’d planned for myself— I’d hoped to marry into the Oxbloods and join their dynastic string empire. But that was four days ago, before I met Jane, retrieved the Caravaggio and explored High Saffron. So instead of enjoying aspirations of Chromatic advancement, I was wholly immersed within the digestive soup of a yateveo tree. It was all frightfully inconvenient.

But it wasn’t all bad, for the following reasons: First, I was lucky to have landed upside down. I would drown in under a minute, which was far, far preferable to being dissolved alive over the space of a few weeks. Second, and more important, I wasn’t going to die ignorant. I had discovered something that no amount of merits can buy you: the truth. Not the whole truth, but a pretty big part of it. And that was why this was all frightfully inconvenient. I wouldn’t get to do anything with it. And this truth was too big and too terrible to ignore. Still, at least I’d held it in my hands for a full hour and understood what it meant.

I didn’t set out to discover a truth. I was actually sent to the Outer Fringes to conduct a chair census and learn some humility. But the truth inevitably found me, as important truths often do, like a lost thought in need of a mind. I found Jane, too, or perhaps she found me. It doesn’t really matter. We found each other. And although she was Grey and I was Red, we shared a common thirst for justice that transcended Chromatic politics. I loved her, and what’s more, I was beginning to think that she loved me. After all, she did apologize before she pushed me into the leafless expanse below the spread of the yateveo, and she wouldn’t have done that if she’d felt nothing.

So that’s why we’re back here, four days earlier, in the town of Vermillion, the regional hub of Red Sector West. My father and I had arrived by train the day before and overnighted at the Green Dragon. We had attended Morning Chant and were now seated for breakfast, disheartened but not surprised that the early Greys had already taken the bacon, and it remained only in exquisite odor. We had a few hours before our train and had decided to squeeze in some sightseeing.

“We could always go and see the Last Rabbit,” I suggested. “I’m told it’s unmissable.”

But Dad was not to be easily swayed by the rabbit’s uniqueness. He said we’d never see the Badly Drawn Map, the Oz Memorial, the color garden and the rabbit before our train departed. He also pointed out that not only did Vermillion’s museum have the best collection of Vimto bottles anywhere in the Collective, but on Mondays and Thursdays they demonstrated a gramophone.

“A fourteen- second clip of ‘Something Got Me Started,’ ” he said, as if something vaguely Red- related would swing it.

But I wasn’t quite ready to concede my choice.

“The rabbit’s getting pretty old,” I persisted, having read the safety briefing in the “How Best to Enjoy Your Rabbit Experience” leaflet, “and petting is no longer mandatory.”

“It’s not the petting,” said Dad with a shudder, “it’s the ears. In any event,” he continued with an air of finality, “I can have a productive and fulfilling life having never seen a rabbit.”

This was true, and so could I. It was just that I’d promised my best friend, Fenton, and five others that I would log the lonely bun’s Taxa number on their behalf and thus allow them to note it as “proxy seen” in their animal- spotter books. I’d even charged them twenty- five cents each for the privilege— then blew the lot on licorice for Constance and a new pair of synthetic red shoelaces for me.

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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