The Shadows of Radovar
A tense dystopian YA novel about resistance against power, exploitation and indoctrination
This haunting YA novel by Marloes Morshuis – her third and the best one so far – convincingly demonstrates what can happen when a government introduces a social system based on scoring points. Your behaviour determines your score, and that score is linked to both privileges and restrictions.
Teenager Jona lives with her parents and her brother in the grey city of Radovar, in a block of flats known as ‘Starlight’. Beside every front door there is a scoreboard showing the points that the family has gained for hard work, school performance and social behaviour. Mistakes cost points.
In Starlight, your score determines, for instance, which floor you live on and whether it is above or below ground, and also how much time you are allowed to spend in the city’s park. Jona’s family is among the fastest climbers, but life in the block of flats is driving her increasingly crazy.
During an illegal trip outside, she meets Kilian, a rebel who has set up the Free Radovar action group in some old tunnels under the city, with the aim of overthrowing the system. He opens Jona’s eyes to the dark side of the regime, and she joins him. But rebelling without drawing the attention of the tough Grey Brigade doesn’t prove easy.
Morshuis has cleverly thought out the grim psychology behind the points system. Suspicion, envy and fear run rampant among the citizens, along with the fanatical desire to earn points. Radovar is ‘a cunning monster that feeds on the strongest fuel in the world: the very will of its inhabitants themselves.’
There are, of course, lots of dystopian novels already out there, but Morshuis’s cinematic story is tightly constructed, exciting, largely believable and grabs you from the very first page. It deals, in a contemporary way, with important and timeless issues, such as power, exploitation, indoctrination, and particularly (the lack of) freedom and resistance.
A particularly successful element is the way in which the protagonist Jona’s struggle is driven by memories from her life in a village, which date back to before the system, and the believable way she grapples with her betrayal and that of her parents.