Title: If We Were Villains
Author: M.L. Rio
Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.
On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.
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.
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.
I had no idea what to expect going into this book, but I was not disappointed. I’ve never read anything like this before, and I don’t know if I ever will again, but this book was utter perfection. I loved everything about it: the story, the way it was told, the flashbacks, and the writing. But most of all, I loved the characters.
In If We Were Villains, we follow Oliver as he’s being released after 10 years in prison. The story is told in two different ways: the present, as Oliver is relating the story to Detective Colborne, and in flashbacks, where we see how it unfolded for Oliver and his five classmates. These characters were my favorite part of this book: they were all so well-developed, and I fell in love with all of them. Mostly I wanted to wrap them up in a blanket and put them in my pocket for safe keeping.
Oliver: our narrator, and if I had to pick one I’d say he’s the “main” character. He is described as good and kind and nice by his peers, but by himself he’s described as average, both in looks and in acting skills.
James: Oliver’s best friend, and liked by pretty much everyone. He always gets to play the hero, and is handsome and talented.
Meredith: Meredith is the class’s “hot girl”, and also Richard’s girlfriend.
Richard: Richard plays big, powerful, impressive characters. He’s mean and aggressive and argumentative. He is the character I most wanted to punch in the face.
Fillipa: Pip is more difficult to categorize, and we don’t learn much about her past or her home life, as she’s pretty mysterious. She seems like the one I would most make friends with.
Wren: Wren is described in the book as the “girl next door.” I pictured her as fragile and wanted to keep her in my pocket. She’s also Richard’s cousin.
Alexander: The class’s resident stoner, and also only openly gay character. Alexander is the character I connected least with, mainly because he was the only one who I felt could have used a little bit more development. I wanted more about him, and felt like I never really got it.
We had, like seven siblings, spent so much time together that we had seen the best and worst of one another and were unimpressed by either.
The formatting of this book was especially cool, even beyond the flashbacks: it was broken up into five Acts, and then further broken up into scenes. Each Act ended with an especially cruel cliff hanger, and kept me coming back for more. I wasn’t in theater in school, so this world was so different from anything I’d ever experienced myself. I loved getting to see that, and the writing was so amazing that I felt completely transported into it. Also, if you love Shakespeare, do not wait any longer to pick up this book. This book made me want to read ALL of Shakespeare’s work, and reread everything I’ve already read.
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.
Not only did this book manage to be a creepy thriller that had me sitting on the edge of my seat, it also managed to rip my heart out and tear it to shreds. Beyond being a murder mystery, this book is ultimately an ode to found families, emotions so deep that you feel them in your bones, and how far we’ll go to protect the ones we love. I was reading so fast my eyes were blurring in the last Act, and the last line will stay with me forever.
This 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.
This book was book 3 of #FridayFrightAThon: a buddy read/readathon we hosted in October 2018! Every Friday, we start a new spooky read. Use the hashtag to follow along on twitter or instagram. In the meantime, check out my amazing cohosts:
Amy @ A Court of Crowns and Quills
Chelsea @ Chelsea Palmer
Melanie @ Meltotheany