If We Were Villains is a Shakespearean dream of a thriller set in a tight knit community of theater students in the final year at an incredibly prestigious college. As friends turn to enemies, and people get hurt, Oliver, James, Meredith, Filipa, Alexander, and Wren all discover parts of themselves they don’t like. The question very quickly becomes clear, what happened to this group that was otherwise inseparable?
Divided into the five acts and then further divided in scene headings, M.L. Rio‘s debut novel unfolds through Oliver’s memories as he recounts what happened in the months leading up to his arrest for murder. Bouncing through time we follow him and his friends as the stress of their final year begins to eat at their sanity, pushing them all into unseemly behaviours. Each of them have their roles, in reality as well as on stage. These roles are the catalyst that triggers a series of events so horrible, Oliver has kept them secret for the ten long years of his incarceration.
What I loved most about the motion of the story was how the twists were insidious, always peaking out from behind a corner but never quite showing itself until you’re ready to finally see it. Which, if I’m being honest, is never. It’s a punch-in-the-stomach kind of twist that honest to God had me white knuckling the book as I re-read the words to confirm what I had just read.
Oliver is probably the character I related to the most, always good enough but never truly feeling like the spotlight is his. However, everyone was so well rounded and had such depth, I felt like I knew all of them for far longer than just the few days it took me to read the book.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about each of them and risk spoiling anything, but Rio’s narrative style truly makes you connect so completely with each of the character’s emotions as the come, with all the intensity that they express them in.
With a murky ending that is almost more satisfying than a clear one would be for this story, this is hands down the best book I read in January (2018). I live for Shakespeare and the clever mashing of plots combined with the constant quoting of the rest of the Bard’s famous work was beyond satisfying. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a thriller like this, and even longer since I’ve thought “I will definitely re-read this” after finishing one.
If you’re game for a good murder full of twists and turns, topped with a dollop of Shakespeare, then pick up this book. Just do it.
Author: M.L. Rio
Published: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Synopsis: Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.