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Literature: Shades of Grey
JOE? Who's Joe?

Apart We Are Together.

A science fiction literary series, created by Jasper Fforde.

Over seven hundred years into the future, following a vague Something That Happened, the country of Chromatacia lies where Britain does today. The human race has transformed into an androgynous-looking race of people with very small pupils that can see one and only one color, all others appearing as shades of grey. Your social standing depends entirely on the one color you can see; those who see purple belong in the aristocracy, whereas those who see red are the working class. Achromatics, or "Greys", cannot see any color at all, and thus they're little more than slaves. These humans share the world with many species of giant, mutant creatures, including killer trees. Most oddly, every living creature has a barcode pattern growing naturally somewhere on their bodies. The entire country is run in the manner of a British boarding school, to the point where a person's worth is measured on how many merits they have.

Our protagonist is Eddie Russett, a young man and member of the House of Red. As punishment for having humiliated a prefect's son, he is banished to the village of East Carmine for a month of menial labor, along with his father, who is sent to replace the village's recently-deceased medical practicioner. After making himself at home and meeting the quirky locals, he falls head-over-heels for a feisty Achromatic named Jane, whose violent temper is as rare in Chromatacia as is the shape of her nose. Smitten, Eddie begins to stalk her, and in doing so he accidentally stumbles on an incredible secret, one that will rock their world to its foundation. Together, for better or worse, Eddie and Jane become the seeds of a revolution...

Not to be confused with the Web Comic or Interactive Fiction of the same name. Also, avoid confusing it with the BDSM novel 50 Shades of Grey.

This series contains examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer - Violet deMauve, first for Doug, then for Eddie.
    • Atypically for this trope, Violet is attractive and very rich. Her personality is really that unpleasant.
  • After the End
  • Ambiguous Gender - The citizens of Chromatacia are implied to be this, including Eddie. At least when compared to The Previous (us).
  • Author Appeal The barcodes. No really.
  • And Man Grew Proud - The book's setting is in a post-'Something That Happened' England where the culture is based around a book of English boarding school rules.
  • Arranged Marriage - Eddie to Constance Oxblood, then to Violet deMauve.
  • Berserk Button - Don't talk about Jane's nose. Call it retrousse and you die.
  • Bittersweet Ending - Sure, Eddie is going to be Red prefect and has a chance of getting into National Color, but he and Jane can't get married because she's certified as Green, so he has to marry Violet and poor Dorian and Imogen got sent to High Saffron, where they will probably die horrible deaths.
  • Brown Note - Redlax and Lincoln.
    • A whole lot of other hues too. The main job of a swatchmen (read: doctor) is to show people certain swatches of colour to get an appropriate physical reaction.
  • Chekhov's Gun - As noted elsewhere, each chapter begins with a quote from what are presumably the rules of Munsell. Most of them don't appear to have any greater significance, but one of the earlier chapters foreshadows part of the ending, namely Jane and Eddie being incompatible because they are complementary colours.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience - Chromaticia's entire social structure.
  • Color-Coded Patrician - What color people can see defines their social standing; Purples command the most respect. Wealthy people may choose to artificially dye their clothes so all can see it - a practice which the main character calls "a proudfully expensive and tastelessly ostentatious display."
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male - Violet on Eddie. The fact that Eddie's own dad set it up just adds insult to injury.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita - Each chapter opens with a quote from the rules.
  • Fingore - A blue girl accidentally chops some of her fingers off early in the book. It's not a big deal, and Holden sews them back on easily - one of the first signs of just how odd the inhabits of Chromatacia are.
  • G-Rated Drug - Specific colors have this effect on the citizenry, including Lincoln.
  • How We Got Here - The book starts with Eddie inside a Yateveo. The first 9/10ths of the book are explaining how he ended up in such a pickle.
  • I Wish It Were Real - Perpetulite, a material used to build roads. Technically alive, it shifts to push obstacles out of the way and survives by absorbing nutrients from any organic debris that may fall on it, including dead leaves, weeds, roadkill, and people essentially eliminating the need for any road maintenance. It was developed by the Previous long before the start of the novel, and the technology used to create it has been lost to time.
  • Inventor of the Mundane - More like Rediscoverer of the Mundane. Eddie sits on the sharp end of "a spoon or fork or something" which turns out to be a spork. After it's removed, he uses the concept of a spoon-fork hybrid as a valuable bargaining chip, because there is a law against manufacturing spoons and they've become so rare that people engrave their names on theirs and pass them on to their descendants.
  • Loophole Abuse - How a surprising amount of things are accomplished in Chromatacia, really. Stuck between the inviolable rules and the need for certain things to get done (things usually required by other rules), loopholery has become a proud tradition.
  • Lovable Rogue - Tommo Cinnabar. A snitch, drug addict, and all-around ne'er-do-well with a money fetish, but a charming and likeable one nonetheless.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father - Inverted
  • Made of Plasticine - The denizens of Chromatacia lose body parts and break bones with surprising frequency and generally not by what we'd consider sufficient force. Often played for laughs.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident
  • Man-Eating Plant - The Yateveo.
  • Meaningful Name - Family names suggest the colors they can see: the Russetts, a Red family; the deMauves, a Purple family; Gamboge, the Yellow prefect; etc.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed - Legends of the Previous, such as M'Donna and Chuck Naurice.
  • Our Founder - Both East Carmine and High Saffron have a twice-life size statue of Our Munsell in the town square.
  • Really Four Hundred And Fifty One Years Old - The Apocryphal man.
  • Released to Elsewhere - Rebooted.
  • Scannable Man: Barcodes. They're everywhere.
  • Scavenger World
  • Sequel Hook
  • Shout-Out - One of Eddie Russett's friends is named Floyd Pinken.
    • Prefect Yewberry warns Eddie and his father about Pookas in Rusty Hill, saying they've appeared here and there, now and then, to this one and that one.
    • When Eddie is Zane's house in Rusty Hill, there's a television playing 'Raiders of the Lost Ark''.
    • The Oz Memorial and all the works of art.
      • Word of God holds it that the Oz Memorial is not actually to The Wizard of Oz, but instead to Frank Oz, the voice actor.
    • Most characters have last names relating to their colors, however grays are only referred to as G-(insert number here). So we end up having Zane the Grey, Jane the Grey, and Dorian the Grey.
    • Subtler than the others, but throughout Eddie refers to the Ishihara, the test all citizens take in order to have their colour perception levels certified. In real life, the Ishihara test is used for a similar purpose - to test colour-blindness, rather than colour-perception.
    • In-universe, Munsell created a society that ranks people based on individual sensitivity to color. In real life, Albert H. Munsell created a classification of colors based on mathematical models of human perception in general.
    • Many parts of the book could be construed as references to The Giver, but perhaps the most obvious one is the discussion of the confusion between "snack" and "smack".
  • Star-Crossed Lovers - Eddie and Jane. At first due to different social standing, and the fact she keeps threatening to kill him, later due to him being a very strong Red and her being a very weak Green, and complementary colors must never mate.
  • Stealth Pun - One of the minor characters is a photographer who can only see grey and is called Dorian. Hmmm...
    • In fact, all of the Greys are stealth puns. Unlike other characters, they aren't given last names that are actual color shades, instead being G-17 or G-24 etc. So in addition to Dorian Gray we have Jane Grey, Zane Grey...
    • Not to mention the love story between Edward and Jane.
  • Take a Number - Eddie sets one up in his father's office.
  • Tsundere - Jane. Very much so.
  • Unperson - Apocryphals would be... if they existed, which they don't.
  • Unusual Euphemism - You know (sex) and thingying (masturbation)
  • When Trees Attack - The Yateveo.


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