If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio / ★★★★☆
Summary: Oliver Marks is released from jail. Ten years prior, he was part of a close-knit group of fourth-year actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, where, one day, one of them turns up dead. There, the fourth years face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.
“Oh my God,” I said, shaking my head. Alexander let the breath he was holding burst out, chuckled softly. “When did we become such terrible people?”
“Maybe we’ve always been terrible.” He shrugged and watched the white cloud of his laughter shimmer and fade.
The first thing I must say about this book is that it definitely lived up to its title and its cover art, which is high praise, because I LOVE the title and cover of this book. This book presents a dark mystery when a member of a group of close-knit college Shakespeare actors turns up dead. As a fan of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, this book gave me similar vibes, and I loved the almost cultish mania that surrounded the main characters and their love of Shakespeare. Unlike The Secret History, these characters seemed a bit more lost in their predicament, more unhinged in a younger, more realistic way. I don’t think you necessarily have to be a big fan of Shakespeare to enjoy this book, but an interest, or at least a familiarity in some of his plays, might certainly make it more interesting. But If you LOVE Shakespeare you should definitely give this a read.
Even though this book presented a mystery, I was never really surprised by any of its plot twists, though I enjoyed them. It wasn’t very difficult to predict how it was going to end, but it was one of those books that I enjoyed seeing how it got there. My main, well, not criticism, really, but wish for this book is that I wanted it to be longer, especially in the beginning, and perhaps set up a bit more of the stage, so to speak, with the characters so that I connected to them more quickly, because if I had, I think I would have been more invested in the plot. Not that I wasn’t, but the whole time I was reading it I felt I could have been more invested. Still, while If We Were Villains did not exactly blow me away, it was a book that was right up my ally and I really enjoyed it. Definitely recommend if you’re in the mood for something on the darker side, or are a fan of Shakespeare.
The characters grew on me pretty quickly, they were young and sympathetic , and I loved how they unraveled over the course of the novel. From the very beginning we are introduced to this group of seven fourth year Shakespeare actors, which at first was a bit to get a grip on, but it didn’t take long for me to grow comfortable with them and understand their differences. I loved their development and they ways they unraveled as characters and as friends over the course of the novel. Mostly, I loved the main character, Oliver, and his best friend and roommate, James. Their relationship was a highlight.
But like I said, I do wish this book had been a bit longer in the beginning- I think more backstory on their friendships – and particularly their relationship with the one who ends up dead – would have made me care a bit more when he did turn up dead, and feel more deeply for the ways they responded to it. That came on a bit fast, before I was invested. But by the end of the novel the characters had grown on me a lot, and I liked the way the book ended.
The writing was fluid, yet concise. It captured atmosphere beautifully, nailing that almost whimsical, contained undercurrent of college life, but to a degree that feels almost stifling. The Shakespeare was integrated seamlessly- neither the story nor the Shakespeare overshadowed the other.
Was I satisfied?
This book didn’t blow me away, but it was a good, dark story with characters that I enjoyed. A must-read if you’re a Shakespeare lover!