If We Were Villains — M.L. Rio

Read Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5/5
Format: Print Book
Well, I loved everything about this book in its entirety, so give me a second to think about how to begin.
First of all, my paperback copy of this book is GORGEOUS. The cover is black with a dead sparrow (read the book to figure out what that’s all about!) and the pages themselves have black edges, as well! It’s a hauntingly attractive book. Not that we should be judging based on that, buuut……
Now, I have to include a little disclaimer here, so heads up: I have a background in theatre and have been personally invested in Shakespeare for a long time, and I also went to school for music/theatre, so there are aspects of If We Were Villains that I know interest me for nostalgic reasons as well. That said, this is still a beautifully crafted piece of literature that’s captivating and surprising and relatable all at the same time.
“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 put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, and he wants to know what really happened a decade before.” 

This little blurb, admittedly, I have borrowed from Gooodreads, but I’m just leaving it here because it really is the most accurate description of the plot, and I want to talk about way more in-depth things in this review, so I’m getting that bit out of the way.

Over the course of Villains, the reader gets an in-depth look at what goes on in a theatre– in this case, exclusively Shakespeare– conservatory program, and let me tell you, that’s exactly what theatre school is like. You float in packs of actors your age who are all different character types (in this book depicted by fourth-year students Meredith, Fillippa, Wren, Oliver, James, Richard, and Alexander), and you all know each other entirely too well because you share all the same classes, performances, living quarters, hopes and dreams, you name it. The reality of Rio’s prose is what made this book particularly intriguing, because when a student turns up dead (or is he?!) in the lake after a 100% raging cast party, the reader is hooked.

Equally beautiful is the interspersion of Shakespearean one-liners and soliloquies throughout the novel, but what pushes this detail the extra mile is the shows that the conservatory is producing at the time this murder (or is it?!) occurs: Julius Caesar and King Lear as mainstages, with scenes from Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet at the holidays, Halloween and Christmas respectively. In order to explain why these parallels are so stunning, we’d be here for hours while we also talked about why Caesar and Lear are both stunning, so take it upon yourself to familiarize yourself with the tragedies before reading Villains and discover it for yourself, because it is such a treat and really worth it in order to elevate your reading experience.

It would be challenging to describe too much of Villains‘s beauty without giving away some of the most exciting details, so suffice it to say that this is the 5/5 that has me questioning the other 5/5s I’ve given. The writing is spectacular, the details and the magic that are encompassed within the pages are surreal, and yet the tinges of reality that slip in are utterly and completely credible. 

Buy it here or, as always, find it in your local library, and lend me your thoughts!

Happy reading 🙂

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