Keeping many secrets within the pages, If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a ride and a half.
As a fair warning, this book hurts and yet you’ll struggle to put it down. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. This book review took days to come together, just as I tried to scramble my thoughts together. In short, I loved it. I was hooked from the first chapter, and I fell head over heels for If We Were Villains.
Overall scoring for If We Were Villains
Book rating: Five stars out of five (formerly 4.5)
Book genre: Dark academia, mystery, thriller,
Re-readability: I often re-read this book.
Recommend this book: Yes, but only for fans of dark academia.
If you’re interested in the long version of my love for If We Were Villains, keep reading.
Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day of his release, he is greeted by the detective who imprisoned him. Detective Colborne is retiring, and he wants to know what happened a decade before. As a young actor at an elite conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seemed to play the same characters onstage and off.
Villain, hero, temptress – though he was always a supporting role. But when the teachers change the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into real life.
For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me.If We Were Villains
My thoughts on If We Were Villains
If We Were Villains is a wickedly charming novel I was absolutely blown away with. As someone who loves twisty books, this one had me at the edge of my seat. It’s laced with layers of misunderstanding and unrequited love, Shakespeare and a school you only wish you could be a part of. There are characters you can’t even begin to fully understand. It dances with angst and circles the drain of mystery. You may think you are already convinced that you know who did the crime.
But all is not as it seems.
This book acts out a performance at the same time as the characters act out Shakespeare’s greatest works. It leaves as much out as it includes—similarly to the playwright’s work. So much so, writing this book review became so hard as even its characters don’t fit neatly into a box. You find yourself peeling the layers back, they become so much more, you’re not sure who you’re watching.
Having Oliver unveil the story is a fantastic choice by the author. His voice gives shades to the work the others wouldn’t be able to pull off, and his goodness and naive nature really sell the plot. To the point, at times you convince yourself the villain isn’t the villain at all, and you half-wish for a happy ending, but you know it won’t come.
What is more important, that Caesar is assassinated or that he is assassinated by his intimate friends? … That,’ Frederick said, ‘is where the tragedy is.If We Were Villains
My main issue with the book
My one issue with this piece is the writing of two female characters in particular. They seem so settled on being used by those who are ignoring the apparent feelings staring them in the face. I can forgive this partially because of the age of the characters, but even when the story begins to wrap up, we find one—in particular—slips back into the same place they had done ten years prior.
If the idea is for you, as the reader, to dislike them, I’d say it’s a job well done, but I imagine you’re meant to see more of her. To see a different layer to her, that doesn’t come across the screen. I also considered that in the few moments of vulnerability, I could have liked her, but her choices left a bitter taste in my mouth. A feeling that repeated with the other female when she too said ‘yes’ to being a pawn in a much larger game.
However, even with that occurring, I feel like it didn’t stop how much I needed to know what happened.
It didn’t stop me from tearing through the acts like a woman on a mission, nor did it stop the book from leaving a dent in me.
The final act
The unveiling of the story, the murder, and the way the author takes us on a trip of the months leading up to it is poetic and haunting. It sits in the back of your mind that anyone could have been a part of it, and yet, you don’t want to believe that anyone would. These characters, in the beginning, were ones I would not choose to befriend if they were in my real life, and yet, I loved each of them for exactly who they were. Actors who ruin you, but speak such beauty and are as addicted to Shakespeare as you are to books.
In a way, the part of them I dislike is the part of myself I know I choose to ignore. They’re them to a fault, hungry and wild, but also self-assured and confident; all traits that are often painted negatively, and yet by the end, I couldn’t think of it that way.
We had, like seven siblings, spent so much time together that we had seen the best and worst of one another and were unimpressed by either.If We Were Villains
Overall, the will-they-won’t-they of two characters had me on the edge of my seat. It made the entire ride more painfully addictive than needed—but I wouldn’t change that for a second. The deep-wishing inside of me that they have one single moment of truth came crashing down in the final pages. Admittedly, I think that was a smart move and one I respect. For this and the poetic storytelling, I rated the story the score I’ve given.
M.L. Rio uses skill and word mastery to tell this story, broken up into acts and scenes that attempt to pull you from your comfort zone, all for the ride to throw you off the scent.
This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed. And one I’ll be tearing through again in the hope of catching the trail of breadcrumbs. It’s also one I know I’ll recommend to others, which for a book blogger like myself, it means a job well done.