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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  • First Published:
    Dec 2009, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2011, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt


“Yes,” I said, “but what do you think?”

He smiled.

“I think we should go and see the Oz Memorial. Even if it’s as dull as magnolia, it will still be a thousand times more interesting than the Badly Drawn Map.”


We walked along the noisy streets toward the museum and soaked in the hustle, bustle, dust and heat of Vermillion. All about us were the traders who dealt with daily requisites: livestock herders, barrow boys, water sellers, piemen, storytellers and weight guessers. Catering for more long- term needs were the small shops, such as repairers, artifact dealers, spoon traders and calculating shops that offered addition and subtraction while you waited. Moderators and loopholists were hirable by the minute to advise on matters regarding the Rules, and there was even a shop that traded solely in floaties, and another that specialized in postcode genealogy. Amid it all I noticed a stronger- than- usual presence of Yellows, presumably to keep an eye out for illegal color exchange, seed trading or running with a sharp implement.

Unusually for a regional hub, Vermillion was positioned pretty much on the edge of the civilized world. Beyond it to the east were only the Redstone Mountains and isolated outposts like East Carmine. In the uninhabited zone there would be wild outland, megafauna, lost villages of untapped scrap color and quite possibly bands of nomadic Riffraff. It was exciting and worrying all in one, and until the week before, I hadn’t even heard of East Carmine, let alone thought I would be spending a month there on Humility Realignment. My friends were horrified, expressed low- to- moderate outrage that I should be treated this way and proclaimed that they would have started a petition if they could have troubled themselves to look for a pencil.

“The Fringes are the place of the slack- willed, slack- jawed and slack- hued,” remarked Floyd Pinken, who could comfortably boast all three of those attributes, if truth be known.

“And be wary of losers, self- abusers, fence leapers and fornicators,” added Tarquin, who, given his family history, would not have seemed out of place there either.

They then informed me that I would be demonstrably insane to leave the safety of the village boundary for even one second, and that a trip to the Fringes would have me eating with my fingers, slouching and with hair below the collar in under a week. I almost decided to buy my way out of the assignment with a loan from my twice- widowed aunt Beryl, but Constance Oxblood thought otherwise.

“You’re doing a what?” she asked when I mentioned the reason I was going to East Carmine.

“A chair census, my poppet,” I explained. “Head Office is worried that the chair density might have dropped below the proscribed 1.8 per person.”

“How absolutely thrilling. Does an ottoman count as a chair or a very stiff cushion?”

She went on to say that I would be showing significant daring and commendable bravery if I went, so I changed my mind. With the prospect of joining the family of Oxblood and of myself as potential prefect material, I was going to need the broadening that travel and furniture counting would doubtless bring, and a month in the intolerably unsophisticated Outer Fringes might well supply that for me.


The Oz Memorial trumped the Badly Drawn Map in that it was baffling in three dimensions rather than just two. It was a partial bronze of a group of oddly shaped animals, the whole about six feet high and four feet across. According to the museum guide, it had been cut into pieces and dumped in the river three centuries before as part of the deFacting, so only two figures remained of a possible five. The best preserved was that of a pig in a dress and a wig, and next to her stood a bulbous- bodied bear in a necktie. Of the third and fourth figures there remained almost nothing, and of the fifth, only two claw- shaped feet truncated at the ankles, modeled on no creature living today.

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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