If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

This post has SPOILERS!!!

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, ingenue, 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. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“I sit with my wrists cuffed to the table and I think, But that I am forbid To tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could a tale unfold whose lightest word / Would harrow up thy soul.


What an amazing book.

I wanted to read this for AGES and now I finally have and it’s def one of my favorite books of this year.

At first I couldn’t stop comparing it to The Secret History (another book I adore). So many lists of Dark Academia book recs made those two books connected in my mind. There are similarities, but they’re both special in their own ways.

I had so many theories while reading this: at first I thought everyone gets together and kills Richard – I guess they do in a way, but that’s not how I thought it was gonna happen. Later it became pretty obvious that James did it, but the more interesting question is why, not who. And how did Oliver come to take the fall.

One of the notes that I wrote early on while reading this is: “Maybe I’m imagining things, but something’s up with James and Oliver”. HAHAHA SO MUCH IS UP WITH THEM OH MY GOD.

The main characters are all studying Shakespeare and they quote Shakespeare all the time. Sometimes it’s just fun, but sometimes the quotes they choose reveal so much more than the things they say with their own words. Their personal drama affects the way they play their characters. One of my favorite parts of the book is when they’re putting on Romeo and Juliet – Oliver as Benvolio and James as Romeo – the lines between them and their characters are so blurred and there’s so much meaning in everything they say… It makes me wonder how much I missed simply because I don’t understand Shakespeare as well as the writer of the book does.

And the ending? Unexpected and incredible. I would love to have another chapter because I want a reunion scene, but it ended perfectly. You know it’s a good ending when you’re frozen for a while after.

This is the kind of book that reminds me why I love to read – I’ve been in a bit of a slump this year and this book makes me excited about reading again. I recommend this to every reader ever.

P.S. This review is a mess but so was I while reading the book – it’s fitting, ok?

“For a moment I’m twenty-two again, watching my innocence slip through my fingers with equal parts eagerness and terror. Ten years of trying to explain Dellecher, in all its misguided magnificence, to men in beige jumpsuits who never went to college or never even finished high school has made me realize what I as a student was willfully blind to: that Dellecher was less an academic institution than a cult. When we first walked through those doors, we did so without knowing that we were now part of some strange fanatic religion where anything could be excused so long as it was offered at the altar of the Muses. Ritual madness, ecstasy, human sacrifice. Were we bewitched? brainwashed? Perhaps.

It occurred to me (for the first time, I think) how alone we were when the Castle was empty, when there wasn’t a party, when the other students were all half a mile away at the Hall. It was just us—the seven of us and the trees and the sky and the lake and the moon and, of course, Shakespeare. He lived with us like an eighth housemate, an older, wiser friend, perpetually out of sight but never out of mind, as if he had just left the room. Much is the force of heaven-bred poesy.

One thing I’m sure Colborne will never understand is that I need language to live, like food—lexemes and morphemes and morsels of meaning nourish me with the knowledge that, yes, there is a word for this. Someone else has felt it before.

The story has changed; we both feel it. It happens just like it did ten years ago: we find Richard in the water and we know nothing will ever be the same.

What were we, then? In ten years I have not found an adequate word to describe us.

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