Every Shade Of Grey: A Primer

We here at Olivia Waite have been hearing a lot of buzz lately about Shades of Grey—which was surprising, since that book is a couple years old by now. And then we realized that maybe people were talking about Shaedes of Gray? Or Fifty Shades of Gray? It's taken us most of a week to realize that these were all different books.

Which one should we read?

We can't be the only ones who are confused about this. Hence, we have assembled a handy primer for reference. If there are any other currently popular books with "shades" or "gray" or any variations of same in the title, please let me know in comments!

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde: This 2010 novel is the first in a series by acclaimed author Jasper Fforde, whom you might recall from The Eyre Affair and subsequent Thursday Next books. The story is dark and imaginative and completely original, set in a world where individuals can only see certain colors, and what colors they see determine their rank in society. There were several points where I was terrified, and many where I was delighted, but there was never a moment where I was not totally fascinated with what was happening on the page before me.

If you've read any of Jasper Fforde's work, you know how hard it is to describe exactly what his novels are like—and if you haven't read any of Jasper Fforde's work, what on earth are you waiting for?

Shaedes of Gray by Amanda Bonilla: My library copy is two feet away at the moment but I haven't started the book yet, so I'll just put in the part of the cover blurb that I liked best. In the shadows of the night, Darian has lived alone for almost a century. Made and abandoned by her former love, Darian is the last of her kind—an immortal Shaede who can slip into darkness as easily as breathing. With no one else to rely on, she has taught herself how to survive, using her unique skills to become a deadly assassin.

I picked it up pretty specifically on account of the glowing Space Needle on the cover, because I grew up in Seattle and am pretty thrilled it's coming into its own as an urban fantasy setting. (See also: Cherie Priest and Kira Brady.) Also, I can never resist a redheaded heroine, no matter how many times I read them. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James: College student Anastasia Steele (um, really?) finds herself pursued by a hot, rich, dominating man who likes kinky, kinky sex rather than sweet, sweet romance. So of course she falls right smack dab in love with him. I owe my initial awareness of this one to the good people at Dear Author—though apparently it's starting to get coverage all over as a sort of older woman's Twilight. (Isn't Twilight an older woman's Twilight?)

The parallel is not a coincidence, since this book started out as Twilight fanfic with a BDSM slant. In other words, this book comes waving eleventy billion red flags to warn me I should stay away. And the review posted on Dear Author bears out that hunch. The BDSM relationship portrayed in this book is severely unhealthy, even abusive, and the prose is not good enough to turn this into a literary exercise along the lines of Lolita or The Story of O.

So there you have it! Three very similar titles, and very different books. At this point I'm tempted to write a Shades of Gray of my very own ...