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If We Were Villains

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  40,311 ratings  ·  8,124 reviews
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
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 11th 2017 by Flatiron Books
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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chai ♡
Folks, when you come across this book, you’ll hear a voice saying, “Oh, this sounds interesting! Do it.” That’s the devil talking.

I hate this book so much I can't bear it. I tore through it, but I feel like it tore through me. That ending grabbed an invisible dagger and twisted it between my ribs. I didn’t want to talk for like...three years. I was exhausted. My heart felt like it was rammed by a semi-truck.

Fuck you, book. You're a bound bundle of dead tree. How dare you.

So, what’s this book
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
another reread and its good to know that dark academia is still my preferred aesthetic.


this book! this book! my kingdom for this book!

this is absolutely sensational, a true work of brilliance. i am so enamoured by this story and everything it has to offer. its quite clever and beyond invigorating - the type of book that fully immerses you whilst reading it.

the passion which radiates throughout this story makes me feel so in love with shakespeare and his words
Elle (ellexamines)
You can justify anything, if you do it poetically enough.

this is going to be one of my favorite books of the year... almost definitely. I’m saying that now on January 26th because I want you all to know. I genuinely cannot remember the last time I found myself so utterly engaged in a book.

Okay, so this is a drama set at a Shakespeare theater, in which a group of theater actors accidentally kill a man and deal with the fallout. Yay! Fun happy stuff. As the plays continue, their roles
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
5/5 ⭐

Full review on my Blog: The Dacian She-Wolf 🐺

“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

“You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough.”

This book is so haunting, so atmospheric, so gripping, and so perfect. And If you, too, love The Secret History by Donna Tartt then I recommend this book with every single bone in my body. Also, this is such a love letter to Shakespeare and all his work, so if you appreciate that I think you’ll also fall so head over heels for this story. I’m honestly not sure what I expected going into If We Were Villains, but it is now one
Nov 28, 2020 marked it as will-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
there’s a reason the only song i know from something rotten is “god, i hate shakespeare”

sorry, let me be serious. im bored, the constant quoting of the bard is annoying, and i really don't think this is gonna be something i like in the end. so, rather than give yet another well-loved dark academia a scathing review i think it would be better to just call it a day. dnf @ idk%
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
As someone who’s not familiar with theatre plays, I still enjoyed reading this book regardless. I’m sure theatre lovers will pick up all the nuances and appreciate it more, but it’s a fun ride with all the murder and melodrama, and I could still tell that much of the narrative mirrored plays that the characters were performing and quoting. There was a lot of building tension and intrigue throughout the story, though I felt the plot twist and the murder’s identity were predictable.
Charlotte May
"This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine."

I have no words. I expected this to be good - there are so many exceptional reviews, I really hoped it would live up to its hype.
Well, it did and more!
7 drama students at an Elite Arts University are in their final year. They are as close as 7 people can be, they fight, they love and above it all they are obsessed with the works of Shakespeare (bear this in mind if you don't like Shakespeare as there are loads of quotes and sections in here).

Oliver -
✨    jami   ✨

To sum up: This is the secret history, but written better and with less queerbait, and it focusses on Shakespeare not Greek myths. Dark Academia is That Genre, I love it so much and it fuels me. I'm so glad I finally read this, it was truly delicious. Also, I'm talking about my Theory for the end in the last past of this review to stay tuned, folks!

“The real sky was enormous overhead, making our mirrors and twinkling stage lights seem ridiculous- Man’s futile attempt to imitate God”

If We We
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
until the ending, this was probably going to be a three star from me. a high three on the three-star spectrum, but a three nonetheless. it held my interest, but i think this one will resonate more with theater-kids than it did for me, because of how firmly entrenched it is in that world. rio makes it accessible to regular folk, but it probably helps to have a soft place in your heart for young actors and the things that drive them, and i’m someone impatient with affectation both in life and in m ...more
Amalia Gkavea
‘’’Tis now dead midnight.’’
Measure for Measure, Act 4, Scene 2

Why midnight?Midnight stands between light and darkness. The day that has been completed and the new one that slowly attempts to rise. During midnight, two key events take place in this glorious book, and like this haunting time of day, our characters are walking the thin line between good and evil. And for this, they make the best ‘’villains’’.

This book is so exquisite,so darkly beautiful that I didn’t want it to end. What f
Just got word - there's a new set of the coolest possible things you can be.
1) very into Shakespeare (can quote at length in casual conversation)
3) complicit in a murder with your group of friends

You might think that the coolest things you can be might include traditional things, like "in possession of a motorcycle" or "a New York-based artist with family money" or "on some sort of high school athletic team / squad designated to cheer on said team."

But you'd be wrong.

Dark academia knocks all
here’s my review:

1) not gay enough 😡😴
2) author put me through so much hetero sex and for WHAT
3) this is why i steer clear of white theatre kids
Kayla Dawn
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Uhm.. this was boring?

And maybe I'm uncultured or whatever but my god all of those Shakespeare quotes annoyed the hell out of me.
I didn't care for any of the characters, I didn't care for the plot and I didn't care who the murderer was (and if we're being honest, there wasn't even really a mystery here. I don't know if some stuff was supposed to be shocking or not, but it definitely was not thrilling)

I was bored out of my mind.

(And what's with those weird comments Oliver made about his sister
C.G. Drews
[read 2 | june 2021]
Absolutely chose to reread this to suffer and I am glad I did 😪The reread was fantastic, loved it so deeply (although a little less than the first time because I've read dark academia books I liked better since 2019) but the audiobook was a fantastic choice because listening to Shakespeare hit different. I just am here for poetically tragic books and this one has such a love for words, for reality told through a difference lens, for tight friendship groups and complicated, me
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, m-m
well this is my favorite book of this year so far.
also I feel attacked by that ending
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a 2017 Flatiron Books publication.

This is a psychological thriller for deep thinkers. There is crime and there is punishment. There is mystery, suspense. There are intense characters, shallow ones too, those who are fatalistic and those who are tragic… just like a Shakespearean play.

Ten years ago, Oliver Marks was one of seven Shakespearean actors at the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Today he is about to walk out of a prison cell for the first
amy ☂︎
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Personally, I believe this book belongs in jail for what it did to me. Coming out of If We Were Villains I feel tainted with the undeniable immorality of it all. I'm left with a sense of wrongness that will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. And yet I'm unhealthily, inexplicably and irreversibly drawn to this book.

There's something so fucking sexy about the intelligence that If We Were Villains posesses. I feel like I became a part of this story, as if I myself just witnessed a murd
Oct 29, 2017 rated it liked it
At the beginning I thought this was going to be a 5-star read for me. I was immediately sucked in and didn't want to put it down. I loved getting to know the characters; I found the setting and atmosphere very palpable and moody (it mostly takes place on a college campus in the late 1990's); and the Shakespearean elements were fun because I'd studied his work quite a bit in school.

However, as the story went on I found it to become quite predictable, and many of the elements from the beginning st
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those who enjoyed "The Secret History," by Donna Tart
*Update - 2018*

Because I still think about this book almost a year after reading it, I'm moving it to my favorite's shelf. I think it's deserving there, right alongside The Secret History and Vicious.

4.25-4.5/5 Stars

This was breathtakingly brilliant. Honestly, if this book isn't on your to-be-read list, it needs to be. It starts off shaky (at least it did to me), however, once it grabs your attention - it will not let go.

Now, where do I even start? Should I
Mara YA Mood Reader
Now this is what New Adult should be like! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

I had serious Dead Poets Society vibes here, I loved the dark academia atmosphere, with weird theatre kids haha.

I’m neutral when it comes to Shakespeare. I didn’t attend traditional high school so I was never academically exposed to it, nor did I seek it out on my own. I don’t like Shakespeare nor hate it...I simply just don’t know Shakespeare...

So in a way, I guess I was mildly intrigued by the heavy Shakespearean content and fan
Amy Imogene Reads
5 sonnet-inspiring stars

An anti-Shakespeare reader reads a book structured, centered, and deeply versed in Shakespeare....and literally falls head over heels for it? If We Were Villains was amazing.

Writing: ★★★★★
Structure: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★

Seven senior year college students at an intense fine arts conservatory in Illinois find themselves in their own version of a Shakespearean tragedy as real life begins to blur around the edges of Shakespeare's verse. The hero, the villain, t
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

I have no idea what to say - love doesn't seem like an accurate enough descriptor and nothing else comes to mind. This is 100% one of the most unique reading experiences I have ever had and now I have a headache. Full review to come.
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ugh. This is so fucking frustrating. If We Were Villains had the potential to be truly awesome and it ended up being a complete and utter clusterfuck. The Bard would not be happy ... or maybe he would, if I recall the plot of As You Like It correctly. M.L. Rio's debut novel seems to rival its ridiculousness of plot and lacklustre characterisation. But just because Willie Shakes would've liked it ... doesn't mean I have to. ;)

No, but for real, this book started out great. It is seperated into fi
Susan's Reviews
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Where you able to decipher the clues in James' last note to Oliver?

If We Were Villains is an intelligent, well written theatrical thriller, with lots of emotional and physical drama. This is to be expected of a troupe of American theater students whose main focus is Shakespeare's works.

The bird's-eye view of casting and producing one of these dramas was interesting, but I felt distanced by those numerous archaic dramatic passages. And yet, these passages did help set the stage for a dark and he
lucky little cat
"No, no, no, no."
"Why are people handing this five stars?"
"I don't know, maybe they're all in love with Richard. God knows all the rest of us are."
Really? But then I remembered not everyone was in love with Richard.
"But hasn't anyone noticed it's a lightweight Secret History wannabe, only with annoying theater majors?"
"And perchance with only the most obvious quotes from the Bard?"
"Sh! They'll hear you!"
"And you entirely left out the frequent whiffs of Harry Potter-ishness."
"I'm not sure I-
*slams hands on table* 5 FUCKING STARS


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.

Reading this book was like drowning in syrup. The epitome of bittersweet. I loved it so much it physically hurts. I’m unable to really talk about it witho
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing

Buddy Read with Katie (aka Patronusaurus)
Diane S ☔
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor
4.5. A small elite school, a theater program that is only about Shakespeare, seven friends, seniors, together from the beginning, strong, intense friendships formed. Oliver, our narrator, one of the seven, just released from spending tempers in prison. How did something so special, so promising, go so wrong?

A novel of love, obsession, friendship passion and betrayal. Spending all their on and off time together, this little theater group becomes more important to each other than their real famili
KL (Cat)
Apr 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Oh god here's to hoping I don't get lynched for this.

Personally, I find making book comparisons in reviews distasteful and frankly insulting to both writers. However there are times when a work comes up with startling similarities before you decide to roll your eyes, and say ok, Cassandra Clare, plagiarizing the Harry Potter series for The Iron Trial is not cool at all (and yes, it's been years but LET ME BE PETTY).

I'm not claiming that IWWV is a copy of The Secret History. Certainly there is
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M. L. Rio is an author, but before she was an author she was an actor, and before she was an actor she was just a word nerd whose best friends were books. She holds a master's degree in Shakespeare Studies from King's College London and Shakespeare's Globe. She currently lives in Washington, D. C., but she is terrible at updating online bios, so this information will probably be outdated by the ti ...more

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