Book Review: Shades of Grey

The first book of Jasper Fforde’s that I read was The Eyre Affair the first novel in his Thursday Next series which I have loved. I found the book very witty and full of adventure that really tugged at the heart strings of a bibliophile. I read the description for his novel Shades of Grey and thought that I absolutely NEEDED to read it.

Shades of Grey is a dystopian novel taking place in taking place in a world called Chromatacia where the people’s place in social hierarchy has to do with the amount of color they can see and specifically which colors they can see. It follows the main character Edward Russett who is a Red and is expected to be able to see an exceptional amount of red. He is trying to move up the social hierarchy by marrying the right girl with the right color and gets sent to another city as punishment where he meets a girl named Jane who changes his life and perception of his society.

I really wanted to love this book and forced myself to read it all the way through. The concept was great, and parts of it were very witty, but I found myself struggling to actually finish it. I couldn’t get into the plot development and perhaps it was just a little too British for an American girl because there was a lot of parts that just went right over my head. As dystopian novels go, it is not the most action packed until the very end, although the world building is very interesting. Till the very end of the book I was not sure if this is a completely make believe world (due to references to Oz – which actually would make sense since it was one of the first movies with color and there is that whole play on black and white and color viewing) or if it was our world after some terrible catastrophe that caused this separation of people based on color blindness.

While it is probably very well-written, there is a possibility I am not intelligent enough to pick up on the details in the plot and this left me very confused through most of the book. Perhaps if I had read it the way I would read a textbook, and maybe researched some of the references I may have been able to understand it better, but since I was just reading it for fun, it really missed the mark for me.

The novel ends on a note where the story could be continued, but this came out in 2012 and there have been no sequels yet. It received high praise on Amazon and Goodreads but I have to give this book a low rating because it just didn’t click with me.

All in all, here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

Almost anything can be improved with the addition of bacon.

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.

“Love isn’t sensible, Red. I think that’s the point.” Generally speaking, if you fiddle with something, it will break. Don’t.

The best plans are always the simplest.

“The best lies to tell,” said Jane, “are the ones people want to believe.”

Never underestimate the capacity for romance, no matter what the circumstance. Vulgar mispronunciations of everyday words will not be tolerated.

Book Review: The Passage

I recently finished reading the book The Passage by Justin Cronin. It is the first book in a a three book dystopian/post-apocalyptic series about a virus developed by the military that turns people into vampiric creatures that are incredibly strong, live forever, and don’t even resemble humans anymore. After explaining how the virus is developed and why the world is where it is, the story takes you 95 years into the future where a colony of survivors is living in California. With the help of Amy, a girl who the government infected with the virus but somehow does not have the same side effects as the others but has managed to stay a young girl, and a few of the colonists they set off to Colorado, where the outbreak first manifested, to see if there is a way to save humankind and beat the “virals” (that’s what they call the vampires, but let’s be honest, they are vampires).

Interestingly enough, Justin Cronin’s previous books were romance and contemporary fiction. Completely different from this horror/sci-fi genre he seems to have done pretty well in. This book has fantastic reviews on both Goodreads and Amazon and was personally recommended to me by a family member, so I had some pretty high hopes.

There were several things I liked about this book and very few things I didn’t. Mainly, this book reminded me a lot of the show The Walking Dead. So, if you were also a fan of this show, this might be the book for you. It’s a post-apocalyptic story-line, with humans trying to survive human-turned-monster creatures that are difficult to kill and have taken over the whole world. There are the heroes who are determined to win the war against them. There are love interests that change and evolve between the characters. And finally, there is plenty of action and suspense. The book really did read like a really great binge watching show. In fact, if it had not been so long, I probably would have binge read it.

That brings me to another thing I really liked about it. It was really, pretty long. The print length is listed on Amazon as 897 pages. Quite the epic. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. If the story is good, it means there is more to read, which is what any book lover wants, but if the story is bad, you just want to kill yourself because you feel like you will never reach the end. In this case, it was really great. Because it was so long, I got to savor the story for longer, which is really hard for me to do. I have a hard time pacing myself with books and usually overindulge and end up starting and finishing a book within a day or two. That just was not possible with this book, and also made it feel like it was a TV show, rather than just a book.

Finally, I really liked the writing style the author used. There are several literary mechanisms he used such as diary entries, log books, as well as general narrative, which really allowed you to see the story from different viewpoints.

While, there were many things I did like about the book, there were a couple of things that I thought could have been done better. In several parts of the book, my inner Grammar Nazi kicked in. There were several spoken phrases missing quotation marks right next to spoken words that were in quotations. It did not seem like a stylistic choice, but rather an error that the editor did not catch. However it was not something that ruined the story in any way.

Another stylistic change I would make is the use of some vernacular. The author chose to replace a certain four letter swear word with the word “Flyers” (I guess after the virals, who can jump so high and such great distances that they seem to fly), however in other parts of the book, reverts back to the regular four letter F-word we all love to use today. I just feel like you should keep some consistency with that kind of thing.

Finally – this isn’t something I really disliked, just something that I know many people might not – there are a lot of characters to keep up with. With a book this long and spanning so large a time period it is bound to happen. It can be difficult sometimes to keep track of all the different characters that are mentioned that might pop up again for something else. I did not feel like any of the characters were really extraneous though; they all served their purpose and helped to build the story-line and character development for the more main characters. Most of the best selling fantasy and sci-fi novels do have a large character list: Game of Thrones, Outlanderthe Lord of the Rings, etc.

There was one part of the book that I just never really understood and don’t know why the author went this route in the story.

There is one character who I feel was made into an important character, and really shouldn’t have been. The nun, Lacey. She takes in Amy when her mother abandons her and goes after her when the FBI abduct her, but you could already tell he wanted her to be something special because her story-line included her being able to hear the actual voice of God, and then it never comes up again. In fact, you think she dies until you get to the end of the book and find out that she was saved by the scientist who infected all the original twelve virals to begin with by using the same virus he used on Amy. So, she has been alive this whole time, but she broke her vows and married the asshole scientist who created these monsters, and outlived him just so she could tell Amy that she is the savior, which everyone had already figured anyway because she can kind of control the damn things.
I feel like the author could have easily found a different character or way to explain Amy’s role in the whole story-line and left this weird nun out of it. Her character was great until she came back to life. I would have preferred if she had died sacrificing herself for the child and Agent Wolgast to make it out.  The scientist could have left some kind of computer message that the engineer kid, Michael, could have deciphered. Or Amy could have just turned a viral back to normal and figured it out herself in some dramatic suspenseful scene where her friends almost die until she saves them. Or Wolgast could have survived and been changed into whatever she is too, so he can explain it to her, since he was more of a parental figure in her life than the nun was.

OK rant over, and that was really the only part of the book that I didn’t like or agree with.

Other than that, I really liked the book and am excited to read the second. I managed to get it while the e-book was on sale on Amazon, so I am hoping I can wait for the second one to go on sale also. It seems that they are also trying to develop this book series into a TV show, which would make a lot of sense with the style of the book and the success that shows like The Walking Dead have had.

I would definitely recommend this book to other post-apocalyptic/dystopian book lovers and those into sci-fi/horror as well. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to see what they do with the TV show.