The world of the near future is anything but an ashen wasteland in the impish British author’s refreshingly daft first volume of a new fantasy series.
Already cult-worshipped for his popular Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes novels (First Among Sequels, 2007, etc.) Fforde is something like a contemporary Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear. He’s a shameless punster with a demonic flair for groan-worthy parodies and lampoons, and it’s just too much bother to try to resist his greased-pig narratives. In this one, which does take place in a possibly post-apocalyptic world, a repressive Colortocracy ranks and separates citizens according to their ability to perceive particular colors. For example, haughty Greens and dictatorial Yellows (“Gamboges”) deem Red-ness hopelessly lower class. It’s as if 1984 were ruled by Coco Chanel. Our hero, Eddie Russett (a Red, naturally), is an affable young man who hangs out with his father Holden (a healer known as a swatchman), killing time until his arranged marriage to fellow Red Constance Oxblood. But when son and father resettle in the odd little hamlet of East Carmine, the lad’s eyes are opened to a confusion of standards and mores, and the realities of sociopolitical unrest. While serving his punishment for a school prank by compiling a “chair census,” Eddie visits fascinating new places, enjoys the wonders of the UnLibrary and the organized worship of Oz, and decides that conscientious resistance to entrenched authority probably won’t bring about the ultimate ecological catastrophe—Mildew. He’s a little less sure about his wavering infatuation with Jane, a militant, pissed-off Grey (they’re the proles) who rather enjoys abusing him. Eventually, the best and brightest prosper, while characters of another color end up in the relational red (so to speak).
All this is serenely silly, but to dispel a black mood and chase away the blues, this witty novel offers an eye-popping spectrum of remedies. A grateful hue and cry (as well as sequels) may be anticipated.