By Jasper Fforde



438pp/$29.95/May 2024

Red Side Story
Cover by Alex Janson

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 2010, Jasper Fforde published the novel Shades of Grey, about Eddie Russett, who lived in a world in which color and the ability to see certain parts of the spectrum formed the basis of the social structure. At the time the novel was published, Fforde announced two sequels, Painting by Numbers and The Gordini Protocols. Fourteen years later, the first sequel, now retitled Red Side Story has finally seen print, picking up Russett story where it left off in the previous novel. Whether this is the book Fforde envisioned when he began the series is open for conjecture.

Shades of Grey painted a picture of a gonzo world. It was clear that Fforde understood how his world worked, but the novel didn't provide any of that clarity for the reader. The best way to enjoy Shades of Grey was to simply accept Fforde's world for what it was and not question the oddities of the world or the unnatural way the characters behaved in relation to each other. In Red Side Story, which is clearly the middle novel of a trilogy, Fforde begins to explain the way his world works by the simple expedient of letting Eddie and his friends stumble across the answers to mysteries they didn't even know existed. Fforde not only provides a much-needed context to the reader for the novels, but also sets up the third book in which, one presumes, all will be revealed.

When Red Side Story opens, Eddie and his friend, Jane, are preparing to stand trial for the death of Courtland in the previous novel. It is obvious that the two are being railroaded and will find themselves sent to the Green Room, their world' equivalent of a death penalty. However, the good of the community is hardwired into all members of the society and Eddie and Jane, accompanied by their friend Tommo, set off to a nearby deserted village in an attempt to acquire needed supplies for their town. Along the way, they begin to make discoveries about the real nature of the world around them, allowing Fforde to begin to provide context to his readers.

Although Fforde lays out the plot of Red Side Story early in the book, midway through he offers a twist that upends everything he has carefully laid out. This upheaval in his characters' lives, however, serves to further provide information to both characters and readers about the world in which they live that explains the gonzo setting Fforde has introduced and sets them up to continue to explore the world and what it really is, outside their known existence. While readers could enjoy Shades of Grey by taking the setting for granted and just focusing on Eddie's adventures with his friends, Red Side Story, offers up the explanation for that world that was missing.

The title, a not-so-subtle reference to Leonard Bernstein's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet also plays a role in the story. Eddie Russett has a very high ability to see in the red spectrum, which makes him desirable to Violet DeMauve, who sees him as a means to advance herself socially. Although this plot point should add a human element to the novel, it takes a back seat to Eddie and Jane's explorations into the nature of their world, with Jane wanting to overthrow the system (whatever it is) and Eddie going along somewhat reluctantly.

There is a surrealism that runs through all of Fforde's novels, from the living fiction characters of the Nursery Crimes series to the rabbits and wolves of The Constant Rabbit. Normally, acceptance of the surrealism is easy. Shades of Grey felt like there needed to be more of an explanation that was missing from that book, so it is gratifying to see that Red Side Story begins to offer that explanation and does so in a manner that leaves the reader hoping that the nex book in the series is not delayed another fourteen years.

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