If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio


Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.

As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.


Genre: Mystery; Contemporary Fiction; Adult

Page count: 432 (Paperback); 368 (Kindle edition)

Year of publishing: 2017

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)

“We felt all the passions of the characters we played as if they were our own. But a character’s emotions don’t cancel out the actor’s – instead you feel both at once.”

I can’t even express how upset I am to see how underrated this book is. Like, how the fuck??

This is such a good book; I’ve been obsessed with it for at least a week straight and even though I felt the urge to devour it, I didn’t want it to end so fast so I had to slow down and enjoy. You know what happened when I did that? I truly enjoyed it.

I admit, I am not the biggest Shakespeare fan and as a non-native English speaker I find it a bit hard to comprehend, but there is something about the Shakespearean aesthetics that I just love.

If We Were Villains is part of this dark academia aesthetics that has a soothing place in my heart. So of course I fell in love with it.

I mean, how couldn’t I? I am a natural born drama queen, I feed on theatrical stuff like this, do you expect me not to fell in love with a bunch of college kids aspiring to become actors?

You are terrible wrong if your answer was yes. Because I delight in drama. (Telenovelas might have a say to that but uhm, who can say for sure?)

Dramatic Drama GIF

This book is a mystery-crime story and it debuts in the life of seven theatre students after one of them dies (quite tragically).

I honestly can feel the pertinence of this group. They really look like real-life people whom you might get acquainted with at some point in life. I love they dynamics as a group, but I have different feelings for each of them.

  • Oliver is one of my favourites and, it seems, the protagonist of the book; he’s always the sidekick, always the nice guy with a good heart; always loyal; he could do anything for those whom he loves; and he does; how could one not love him?
  • James is another favourite of mine; he’s always the good guy, the hero, the one with a noble heart; he’s definitely a Prince Charming and honestly, my heart just melts for him; but even the best of people have their demons talking in their ears and James is honestly fighting his demons – desperately;

“Instead he was handsome the way you think of the devil as handsome – forbiddingly so.”

  • Filippa is the only one of the three girls of the group whom I actually love; she’s always seen as the extra – she is too volatile to fit into a category so that gives her the ability to play many roles, on- and offstage; Be aware of the ones who seldom speak because they are the ones who held many secrets and truths;
  • Alexander is a freakshow really, a junkhead and definitely the villain of the story, but he might be the one you’ll go to when you want to forget about your worries; he exudes this calmness that you cannot grasp, but you definitely need in life;
  • Wren is such a weird character, it was a bit hard for me to love her; I liked her enough but there was something unpleasant about her that I just couldn’t place and so I have no developed opinion about her; she seems, somehow, too unstable, fragile; the ingénue of the group maybe;
  • Meredith is definitely the temptress, the femme fatale; she’s the she-devil of the story, tempting everyone with her perfect figure like she’s some sort of sexual goddess walking on Earth amongst mortals; I, for once, didn’t like her almost at all; even though I sometimes felt sorry for her, I only saw her as being fake first of all to herself and then to the other around her; I wanted to like her, but I couldn’t, she was lying to herself and she only played with the others to make herself feel better;
  • Richard is the tyrant and the only character that I truly despised from the beginning; no matter how talented you are, what a promising rising star you might be, if you’re not a decent human being, then you’re nothing; and Richard is absolutely disgusting as a day-to-day person and I couldn’t like him in any way.

“Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster.”

All seven of them had a common goal – they’re love for Shakespeare, their love for acting, their love for the dramatic. Their love for soul knowledge. And this is why they stuck together for almost four years. Until the inevitable happens and everything turns upside down.

From the moment six of them discover the body of the seventh, an unforgiving road leading to self-depreciation opens up before all of them. They slowly start to degrade, both morally and physically. They become unsettled and cold. They have to make decisions that might alter their lives forever. They start making decisions no one has to make in life.

This book is terribly deep if you really pay attention to everything that’s happening. It warns you about abuse, about obsession, about death and about the decisions we can make avoid certain situations; it is about what love looks like – it might be a friend, it might be a sister, it might be loyalty, in the end.

This book talks about love, either desperate, hopeless, mad or even platonic love. Impossible love. It talks about sacrifice and whatever it is that leads one to do it. It talks about the fine line that stands between real and not real in the life of troubled, artistic and wild souls.

This book is beautiful. Like, truly beautiful. And if you got a chance to read it, then read it with your mind and heart open, not only with your eyes. Because there is so much more to it than simply words.

In the end, it doesn’t matter you enjoy the drama, because everything turns into a careful tragic masterpiece with no chance of changing its ending.

I honestly fell in love with this. You might too.

“But that is how a tragedy like ours or King Lear breaks your heart – by making you believe that the ending might still be happy, until the very last minute.”

*Photo source: https://fernweh-wanderlust.tumblr.com/post/181595019653/if-we-were-villains-by-ml-rio-actors-are-by


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