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If We Were Villains

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Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day of his release, he is greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, and he wants to know what really happened a decade before.

As a young actor at an elite conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same characters onstage and off – villain, hero, temptress – though he was always a supporting role. But when the teachers change the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into real life.

When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless...

432 pages, Paperback

First published April 11, 2017

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About the author

M.L. Rio

2 books5,607 followers
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currently lives in Washington, D. C., but she is terrible at updating online bios, so this information will probably be outdated by the time you read it.

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5 stars
77,537 (48%)
4 stars
51,680 (32%)
3 stars
22,780 (14%)
2 stars
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1 star
2,028 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30,400 reviews
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews152k followers
December 27, 2022
Reader, when you read the synopsis for this book, you will likely hear a voice saying, “Oh, this sounds interesting! Let's do it.” And I’m here to tell you right now—that’s the devil talking.

Don't let my five-star rating fool you. 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 did nothing to deserve this. Fuck you, book. You are literally a bound bundle of dead tree. How dare you.

Anyways. If you still want to know more about this book, I assume you're a masochist. Fine. Don't say I didn't warn you.

If We Were Villains is the story of a tightly knit group of seven lyric-mad Shakespearean thespians who seem to prefer each other’s company to anyone else’s, thereby offending the rest of the world. But as these things so often go, something dark and sinister soon sews hatred in them, and wedges its way between them. The friendship, once beautiful, begins to hold something worth fearing. At some point, our merry band of thespians become less friends and more things for each other to hit.

Then, almost inevitably: a murder. Now, ten years later, detective Colborne feels every choice he’d made, every action he took that fatal night, as a weight he carries with him. There are so many versions of the story, so many neat distillations of what had happened. Only one person can say which one was true.

Oliver Marks keeps many secrets with sharp edges. Now, no longer prison-bound, with the realization that there is no darkness Detective Colborne can send him to rival what he endured already, Oliver is ready to put the last spectre of the past where it belongs. But for one last time, his brain is revisiting those old haunts, dredging up those years again, churning them to the surface to be rewound and replayed, remembering. And the truth surges back with a vengeance.

“Do you blame Shakespeare for any of it?”
The question is so unlikely, so nonsensical coming from such a sensible man, that I can’t suppress a smile. “I blame him for all of it,” I say.

If We Were Villains lured me in, like a fish to a hook, by appealing to my dark academia loving heart. Shakespearian aesthetics, academic setting, homoeroticism, a secret society whose members communicate (pretentiously) through literary quotes, characters doing morally dubious things at odd hours, a devastating murder, and M.L. Rio has set the scene for an exhilarating, unsettling, and devastating thriller. In short, I was never going to surface from this story with my emotions intact.

If We Were Villains has a deep pull. Rio makes it impossible not to be consumed by this story, not to fall in love with each of these characters, with the encompassing attraction of a group of friends who have made ruins of each other, and the tragic intoxicating chemistry of two lovers who held each other in plain sight of the world, though their bodies remained forever separate. It’s impossible not to feel caught up in the webs she creates: in the thorny tangle of guilt, frustration, and longing, the rivalry, the blurred lines between love and hate, the fractured loyalties and determined single-minded violent obsessions that can never end well for most but make for one hell of a story for the ones who survive to tell it.

This is truly a page-turner in every sense: the intricate plot turnings, the meticulous character work, and the staggering narrative revelations all make for the kind of book that sucks you in for hours at a time. Once the shocks started, it was impossible for me to put this book down. Throughout, I couldn’t shake the horrible feeling that I was being played, that all the actors were stepping onto the stage but no one had ever bothered to give me a script. I was still grasping at the small things I hoped might tell a different story when the ending happened. And oh my god. There was literally a moment where I had to stop reading just so I could think. If you've read this book, you know the moment I'm talking about, and you too have probably tried to make your mind accept the (im)possibility of it because as terrible as imagining what happened might be, it was better than living in this current reality of not-fucking-knowing.

“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.”

In conclusion, I am once again appalled that I'm not part of a tight-knit group of morally bankrupt Shakespeare devotees who sport an unhealthy obsession with aesthetics and together try to cover up a murder one of them committed. Where’s MY dark-academia main-character moment?

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 know everyone who’s read this book is having a hard time right now and I’m here to say: what the FUCK.

I love Oliver and James SO MUCH and they deserved so much more time together. Definitely more than a fleeting kiss shared on a Shakespeare scene before one of them is torn away to a ten-years prison sentence because he took the fall for the man he loves (the only romantic gesture that matters). The fact that Oliver only got to realize that he was actually in love with James while in PRISON? Rio, you are so sick for this. Also, imagine thinking for six fucking years that the love of your life has forgotten about you and moved on because they stopped visiting you in prison, when in reality they’ve… FAKED their death. That's right. If anyone tries to pry away from me the fact that James is somewhere waiting for Oliver to find him, it could only be from my cold, dead hands, and you’d catch these hands from the grave! If you don't believe me, please read this fanfic because it's the only true ending that we all deserved. It might not be *officially* canon but goddammit, it's canon in MY HEART: what is woven into the lives of others by helloearthlings.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,083 reviews17.3k followers
March 24, 2022
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 within this drama shift and switch, ironically mirroring their respective development, and they accidentally get way too involved in several plays as they are occuring.

Dark academia is actually such a compelling and amazing genre to me, always, but Shakespearean drama is perhaps the best dark academia pick out there. We have moral intrigue!! long soliloquys!! everyone knows who he is, but he still has plenty of speeches no one knows!! gay subtext used to its best degree!!
We cracked up. But we didn't really shatter until we came back together again.

The seven lead characters each fit into well-known archetypes:
→Oliver - the lacking-type boy.
→James - the good guy.
→Alexander - the villain.
→Meredith - the sexpot.
→Wren - the ingenue.
→Phillipa - the lacking-type girl. bi. I have no proof but definitely bi.
→Richard - the dick himself.

The degree to which the character dynamics affect this plot is just so so amazing. There is a genuine actual love triangle, as in every branch has some weird tension. (Actually, I don’t know how to make a love dynamic of this friend circle. Help them.)

I don’t really know how to describe what made this book so completely enthralling. This isn’t a book focused on plot twists; I figured out most of the plot points here, actually, aside from a couple mini reveals. Yet every plot point, whether guessed or not, is satisfying, placed perfectly and used perfectly. This is a Shakespearean tragedy and on some level, we know how it ends. But it is completely impossible to get off the tracks.
“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.”

And you know what, this book would have been a five no matter how it ended, but the ending made me screech out loud. So there’s that.

I want to thank Chaima, Melanie, and Aleksandra for encouraging me to read this, because honestly... dear god.

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Profile Image for jessica.
2,511 reviews31k followers
March 8, 2022
yet 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 (and i honestly never considered myself a fan). the way in which these students dedicate their lives to studying him is almost romantic, in a way. how they integrate his language into their own interactions, making their own lives a work of poetry in the process, is very inspiring.

and because of that, i would say the characters are the main focus for me. yes, there is a mystery/thriller element that surrounds the students, but i feel like that takes a backseat to what are phenomenal characters, the boys in particular. i became so enthralled with their lives, how they orbited one another, and just their day-to-day routines.

and i should have known not to get so attached, as this story follows the form of a true shakespearean tragedy. so as i closed the final page, i found myself wistfully thinking that parting is such sweet sorrow.

5 stars
Profile Image for Hannah Azerang.
125 reviews92.4k followers
September 13, 2022
“Oh, is all forgot?” I ask. “All school days’ friendship, childhood innocence?”

“We’ll never forget it,” she says. “That’s the worst part.”

Profile Image for Kat.
260 reviews79.2k followers
Shelved as 'will-not-finish'
July 12, 2022
there’s a reason the only song i know from something rotten is “god, i hate shakespeare”
Profile Image for Kayla Dawn.
291 reviews890 followers
August 1, 2019
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 sisters eating disorder??)
Profile Image for emma.
1,822 reviews45.7k followers
March 15, 2023
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)
2) unbearably pretentious
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 of those things out of the water.

I loved this book very much, as I love anything that even slightly reminds me of The Secret History, and anything that invests me insanely in a set of annoying (at best) or criminal (at worst) characters, and anything with a plot so twisty and intense that it makes my heart beat faster, and anything whose ending I dread (even as I found the book less and less interesting as it went on).

This is not a perfect book, but books with all of those traits are in short supply. And far be it from me to turn away any dark academia options.

Beggars can't be choosers.

Bottom line: Tell me any book that can help me relive the high of this one for even a second.


my heartbeat has been elevated for like...3 straight hours.

and that is very unusual because i do not work out.

review to come / 4.5 stars

tbr review

WAY behind on my dark academia quotas. i'm going to lose my Allowed To Be Pretentious And Everyone Finds It Charming badge
Profile Image for  Teodora .
288 reviews1,601 followers
March 17, 2023
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 to slow down and enjoy. You know what happened when I did that? I truly enjoyed it.

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?)


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 their 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; Beware 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.”


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.”
Profile Image for lisa (lh44's version).
140 reviews479 followers
March 14, 2023
i hate every single person who told me to read this book. "it would be fun!" fuck no
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews111k followers
September 25, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
526 reviews57.7k followers
October 4, 2021
I haven't read a single Shakespeare play... yet I enjoyed this quite a bit!

Strong dark academia vibes (think The Secret History by Donna Tartt), great audiobook.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,083 reviews2,932 followers
October 4, 2021
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 five acts (duh), the first two of which are pretty solid. In the prologue, we learn that Oliver Marks is released from jail. He is finally willing to confront his past and tell the truth of what really happened ten years ago. He recounts the events to the detective Colborne. Personally, I was not a fan of the prologue sections that introduced each act, since they pulled me out of the story ... and who really needs this shitty frame story anyways? But moving on, in the first act, we jump immediately into the swing of things. Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. It is their fourth and final year, and things quickly turn ugly.

I was immediately sucked into the story. I am a sucker for campus settings, so that was probably it. But overall, I really enjoyed being introduced to all of the characters. Sure, they seemed more like stereotypes than real people, but I loved that the stakes were so high. Like, these bitches really delivered when it came to the drama and tension. I loved their bickering, their fights, and overall, the tense and borderline aggressive atmosphere that seemed to have surrounded them.

Nonetheless, even early on, I was quite annoyed by their pretentiousness. I get that Shakespeare is great and all, but you really don't have to quote him 24/7. Moreover, these bitches were really over the top, like, e.g. when Meredith is forced to confront her fears in class, she basically says that she likes being hot but fears at the same time that no one will take her seriously due to her good looks. So far, so good. Let's take a look at what then ensues: Oliver “didn’t know where to look”, Filippa “looked slightly nauseous”, Wren “sat with one hand over her mouth” … I mean can these bitches chill? It ain’t that deep. I never took drama class but if all the peeps there are so unruffled by something as banal as a woman’s insecurities, then sign me the fuck out.

I was able to look past a lot of the cheesy and over the top moments because I really truly wanted to have a good time reading this. I was ready for something light, maybe even a little silly. And the first two acts really delivered. Even though it was kinda cheap, I liked how the plot of If We Were Villains was actually reminiscent of the plot of the Shakespeare plays at the center of the story. Their performance of Macbeth had me on the edge of my seat. It was so thrilling. I loved experiencing a play I like so much through the eyes of these misfits. Also, Alexander as Hecate is everything.

On top of that, I really appreciate how Richard was set up. His presence was so daunting and evil, it took me no time to want to see his head roll. Rio did an excellent job at showing his abusive behaviour toward his peers and how he was the disrupter of peace within the group. At times, I was lowkey afraid of him, not gonna lie. However, I would've liked for his character to be explored a little further. Rio never really showed why Richard was the way he was. What was his fucking problem? Why was he so angry the whole time? Given the fact, that he has been friends with these people for over three years and has formed close bonds to them, I found it weird that the shift in his character between their third and fourth year was never elaborated on. But again, lacklustre characterisation seems to be M.L. Rio's thing. No tea, no shade.

But these are the only (somewhat) positive things I have to say about this book: it's very accessible from the get go, the characters are easy to love (and hate) and the building climax to the inevitable murder is thrilling. Sadly, this is also where the downfall of this novel lies. For someone who has a masters in Shakespeare Studies, M.L. Rio sure as hell doesn't know how to structure her novel/play properly. If there is one thing she should've learned by studying Shakespeare so meticulously, it is that you do not place the murder in the second act, especially if that's the only big upset of the whole plot.

After the second act, it seemed like Rio had shot all her powder and the remaining three acts just fizzled out with no real incentive and excitement. I was convinced that this couldn't be it. The mystery behind the murder was so predictable, it is a joke that it was dragged out for three acts. Her characterisation was so bad, that one quickly stopped rooting for her characters due to how laughable they became. Rio sacrificed authenticity to move the plot in the direction she wanted. The complete disregard of consistency when it came to her character's personality and actions is baffling to me.

On top of that, I am really frustrated as to why something that started off so promising as this book quickly turned into the biggest trope fest I have ever seen? Oliver's relationship to Meredith was so fucking unnecessary, I cannot even. His love for James was palpable from the start. At first, you're trying to sell him to me as this naive underdog, and all of a sudden he's fucking the hottest chick in school?

Oliver's family situation was also the weirdest shit I've ever read, the whole episode of him visiting home during the holidays was so .... words truly fail me. Why did his younger sister suffer from an ED? And why was it belittled by him? I literally don't get why we needed that in this story? It served no purpose at all.

Also, why are the people praising the ending of this book for how romantic it is the same people who condemn Sam Pepper for his 'Killing Best Friend Prank' ... can't relate. It's both messed up. In general, the whole reason behind Oliver being in jail in the first place makes no fucking sense at all. Ugh, Romeo and Juliet, my ass. I am over the sacrificial lamb trope.

And lastly, to those advertising this book as being for true Shakespeare lovers. CANNOT RELATE. I am not saying that Rio doesn't know her shit when it comes to Shakespeare, but she clearly didn't display that knowledge in If We Were Villains. She chose the most obvious and popular Shakespeare plays (Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, etc.), and thus none of her plot points were surprising. The quotes she chose are so basic, it's really quite sad when you think of the deepness and richness of Shakespeare's complete work. This feels like yet another attempt to make Shakespeare appealing to the masses, which is fine, don't get me wrong, but this is definitely more a book for the casual Shakespeare reader, rather than the Shakespeare fanatic.
Profile Image for Melanie.
1,158 reviews97.9k followers
November 5, 2018

“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 of my favorite books of all time.

This story follows seven very pretentious theater students, going to a very prestigious and private college. They moved to Ohio to go to the university from all over the world, but they really made a found family with each other, while all living in what they call the Castle on campus. But one night their life completely changes when they all come together on a decision that alters their fate.

“Nothing mattered much after that morning. Our two souls—if not all six—were forfeit.”

Richard - has a bad temper and is the “mean” one.

Meredith - Richard’s girlfriend, and the “sexy vixen” type.

Filippa - The “cool” one, in my opinion. Mysterious home life. My second favorite.

Alexander - Gay, grew up in foster care, and I believe is Latinx. Yet, is the “stoner” one.

Wren - Richard’s cousin, and “the girl next-door” type.

James - The best actor and our main protagonist’s roommate. I’d say the “popular” one.

Oliver - Our main protagonist, who is nice, and who is sweet, and who just wants to keep the peace between his group of friends. Also, Oliver is totally pansexual and no one can change my mind on this.

“My infatuation […] transcended any notion of gender.”

Oliver is for sure the main character, and this book starts out with him getting out of prison ten years after the events of that frightful night. And he is finally telling the story of what actually happened. This book is also broken up in five acts, but we get to see the events of what really happened that night, a decade ago, and we get to see the ramifications of how that altered everyone’s lives in present day.

“How tremendous the agony of unmade decisions.”

And each act, to me, really highlights a different Shakespearean play, that really sets the tone for what is unfolding in that act. From A Midsummer Night's Dream, to Julius Caesar, to King Lear, to Romeo and Juliet, to so many more; the honoring, appreciation, and celebration are all there and it truly makes for a read like no other. This book is a love letter to theater. And this book is structured so perfectly, written so expertly, that I really think that R.L. Rio crafted something beyond genius.

“It’s easier now to be Romeo, or Macbeth, or Brutus, or Edmund. Someone else.”

Friends, I feel like this is a book that won’t be for everyone, but if it is for you then you will love it with the sum of your being. This was perfection for me, and completely made my October this year. If you’re looking for something haunting, and thrilling, and so very atmospheric, then please give If We Were Villains a try. And that last line? It is going to haunt me forever with its beautiful perfection.

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Content and trigger warnings for: death, murder, physical abuse, slut shaming, a transphobic comment, a onetime use of the slur for Romani people, a homophobic comment, drug overdose, PTSD depiction, depression depiction, suicide, self-harm, and mention of an eating disorder (and a poor taste comment about it).

Buddy read for #FridayFrightAThon which I co-hosted with Amy @ A Court of Crowns and QuillsJen @ Pinot and Pages, & Chelsea @ Chelsea Palmer! 👻
Profile Image for ;3.
385 reviews776 followers
June 28, 2019
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
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
655 reviews3,857 followers
May 21, 2019

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 Were Villains follows Oliver, who has just been released from prison. The lead investigator on his case ten years ago, who has now quit the police, begs Oliver to reveal the truth of what happened on the fateful party that landed Oliver in prison ten years ago. And so begins a tale of friends who attend an elite acting school for Shakespeare, where the characters and words they become every day start to distort their own perceptions of themselves.

This is Such excellent dark academia, exploring the power of words and characters and emotion. I love Shakespeare, so I love how this focussed on his works and integrated the plays and the meanings of his works into the book. The focus on emotion and pathos, central to Shakespeare, becomes central here. I loved the way the author translated the contemporary idolisation of Shakespeare into something so dark and twisted. I also loved that the author incorporated Shakespeare's style into the book. For example, writing dialogue like a play script, and including themes, motifs and dialogue from plays into the text. If We Were Villains makes sense if you haven't read Shakespeare, but I think it's enriched in a huge way if you HAVE read his works. I think it was a cool choice - the inside Shakespeare jokes and callbacks makes you feel just as pretentious and clever as the characters, and it's just a really fun dynamic to play with.

“Which of us could say we were more sinned against than sinning? We were so easily manipulated - confusion made a masterpiece of us.”

All in all, we follow main characters. At first, I do think they're a bit stereotypical and cliche, but I thought Rio did a good job at exploring these cliches, and analysing why and how people categorise characters and people.

➽ Oliver - The main character. He's the 'good guy', generally nice, just wants everyone to be friends and keep the peace. He is a bit naive, a little bit unsure of himself, but as likeable as these characters can be.

➽ James - Oliver's roommate and best friend. He's popular, a great actor, and usually gets the great, tragic hero roles.

➽ Richard - Truly, lives up to his dick nickname. The Henry Winters, if you will. But the teachers favourite, and gets all the heroic hero roles.

➽ Alexander - The funny friend. He's gay and latinx. Known for partying/drinking/drugs. He was one of my favouries because he was so funny. Usually gets the funny side character parts.

➽ Meredith - Richard’s girlfriend. "The sexy, sultry woman". She gets all the best female roles.

➽ Filippa - Mysterious and nice. No one knows much about her, but she gets along well with Oliver. She, like Oliver, usually gets the leftover parts because no one really knows what 'her thing' is.

➽ Wren - Richard’s cousin, relaxed and moderate, usually trying to be the balance between Richard and the rest of the group. She is pretty close with James.

One thing I really liked was how the characters typecasts in terms of Shakespeare plays both informed and distorted their characterisation. The characters almost 'become' their parts, making it hard to determine where their acting and their actual personality begins and ends. Perhaps acting is personality and personality is acted and it's all the same? Those are the kind of questions Rio poses throughout this book, leading to her characters becoming increasingly complex and hard to pin-down throughout the book. I thought the way she undermined but also played into the stereotypes - from tragic hero, to the seductress, to funny sidekick, to loyal best friend - was really interesting, and a way of drawing out characterisation I really haven't seen before. Also, the way the characters are trying to escape their assigned destinies if they aren't good - eg, tragic hero - really made my heart hurt. When [ THAT CHARACTER ] said he doesn't want to be a tragic hero again, he wants to be the hero of a romantic comedy. Wow, MY HEART.

"Do you blame Shakespeare for any of it?"
"I blame him for all of it."

The writing in If We Were Villains was also really beautiful. I found myself tabbing A LOT of this book because it was so wonderfully written. The prose was a good balance of pretentious and flowery, a hallmark of the genre, but not overly incomprehensible. I also loved how the atmosphere and setting were established. Rio created such a tacit and tangible setting, with the smells and the pictures and the tone so easy to picture. I liked how she took Shakespearean conventions to establish elements of the story, blending prose and play in such a clever way. The

“The sky was clear and quiet, stars peering curiously down at us from a wide dome of indigo. The water, too, was still, and I thought, what liars they are, the sky and the water. Still and calm and clear, like everything was fine. It wasn’t fine, and really, it never would be again.”

Anyways, I just really loved this book so much. A true treat and delight for those of us who love Shakespeare and art and love to Feel Emotions but like, can't handle it. Also, I was living for the m/m romance-ish kinda thing happening, and I would literally die for Oliver and his happiness. Anyways, if you like atmospheric books, angst, the secret history, shakespeare, shaky friendships, and drama, you should read this book.


Alright. James is Alive and Well. And here is my defence of that statement

Listen, I'm going to give y'all a quick sum up of Pericles.
Basically, Pericles has both a wife and a daughter he thinks are dead for the majority of the play. He sails into the ocean to die because he thinks everyone he loves is gone, but he then finds out that his wife and daughter, are actually alive, and the final part of the play is Pericles being reunited with them both. Pericles is an interesting play because it is set up like a tragedy but ends up like a comedy - aka, in the Shakespearean comedies, the drama is resolved when the characters who are presumed to be dead turn out to be alive, or when two characters kept apart by circumstances end up getting married.

SO, how does it all relate? One, James says Oliver is Pericles, which is significant because Pericles is the only tragic hero who actually gets a happy ending. Instead of everyone dying, he gets everyone back in the end. Second, James sending the Pericles letter is important because it refers to the bit where Pericles thinks he will be drowned at sea with his wife, only to discover she never drowned at sea and is alive. Like, Pericles is The Hero who actually gets everything back, even when everyone thinks both he and his whole family are dead. Also, James says at one point he's done playing the tragic hero and wants to do a comedy instead, which is when everyone gets to be happy at the end. FINALLY, James and Richard are both likened to the Sparrow in Hamlet, and the sparrow is a metaphor for fleeing to somewhere where you can be guilt-free and escape your past.

ANYWAYS, maybe I'm reaching but I Just Want Them To Be Happy so yes I do intend to read every fanfic of this in the world and live in bliss imagining this until I day. Have a good day, sir!
Profile Image for ELLIAS (elliasreads).
477 reviews37.8k followers
November 2, 2021
Character in book: eloquently quoting lines of *relatable* Shakespeare to my face-

Me: YOU DOTH QUOTE TOO MUCH BITCH, please shut the fuck up!!!

If anyone quoted more than five lines of Shakespeare to my face in every single conversation they've had with me.....you can bet it can definitely end in tragedy!!!!

This was literally: The Secret History VS If We Were Villains, and obviously for me, the former wins with a BIG SLAP across the face against IWWV. I think on its bare bones, there wasn't much substance following the fact after we learn who was killed...which was pretty predictable in every sense. And murderer(s)? Equally pinned down. Call me a wizardry thriller enthusiast, I don't know but the fact that this was basically a lighter thriller and even more less mysterious counterpart than that of its successor before it- The Secret History....kind of ruined it for me I suppose.

I would have to agree that this was waaayyy more accessible to the wider audience and less of pretentious of a read, which ironically, had more self awareness of its vast pretentiousness.

You can watch our live show about the book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsdEn...

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Profile Image for Charlotte May.
684 reviews1,051 followers
September 9, 2019
"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 - Our main protagonist, describes himself as the least talented of the group. The most ordinary.

James - Oliver's room mate and best friend, they have been inseparable for the last four years.

Meredith - The vixen. Described constantly as this impossibly attractive woman, no man is immune. Every part she has ever played has invoked this sexual aura she seems to have.

Richard - Dating Meredith. The absolute epitamy of the shortened version of his name (aka Dick). I hated this guy with a passion, he is arrogant, rude and violent. He usually gets the main part in every show they put on.

Wren - Richard's cousin, a delicate flower. Another reviewer described her as 'the girl next door' which I think is a good description for her.

Filippa - A bit mysterious. She never reveals her home life, keeps mainly to herself but she is fiercely loyal to the others.

The book opens with Oliver about to leave prison after a decade, serving time for murder. Detective Colborne - the police officer who arrested Oliver, has never really believed his story. Now he is about to retire, he asks Oliver if he will finally tell the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

We are swept up into the students' world of parties, drugs, obsessions and secrets. And honestly? It is so addictive - there is this underlying theme of darkness, we know something bad is going to happen, it's just a matter of when.

The ending wasn't quite the twist I was hoping for. But then again, it had to be someone so there couldn't really have been any other ending without it becoming unrealistic, so I think it was done well. I was also heartbroken when

Overall, I thought this was fantastic, and I highly recommend it. Murder mystery mixed in with the drama of the theatre and the passion of Shakespeare. What's not to love?

"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."


So this book just ruined me. I’m going to need much time to recover from this.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,113 reviews8,047 followers
October 29, 2017
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 started to wear on me as a reader. The characters stayed pretty one note throughout. Everything was a bit redundant including the decision by the author to include so much of Shakespeare's text (literally whole passages were copied from his work and it became a drag to read, even when the texts were reflective of the characters' internal monologues—clever at first but the effect wears off). And by 50% of the way through the story I figured out the 'plot twist' which made reading the last half less exciting.

All that to say, I would still recommend this book, especially if you are looking for something quick and thrilling to get you out of a reading slump. It's a fun read, even if at times it's a bit melodramatic (I think that's partially the point) and unrealistic. There are a few plot holes and the characters are not the most likeable, but it reads like a CW teen drama and is quite addictive. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
July 7, 2018
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 my reading, so the characters were frequently more grating than charming to me. they’re definitely convincing for who they are, but i never warmed to any of them or felt sympathetic towards them - i’ve certainly known people like this in my life, but it’s exhausting to be confronted with seven of them at once, all posturing and pretentious banter, where conversations are on-the-nose passages from shakespeare’s plays shot back-and-forth, displaying the characters' education, not necessarily their personality.

i’m with the detective (the first speaker) in this scene:

”So,” he says. “How much of what you told me about that night was true?”

“All of it,” I say, “in one way or another.”

A pause. “Are we going to play this game?”

”Wherein I am false I am honest; not true, to be true,” I say.

“I thought they would have beaten that bullshit out of you in prison.”

“That bullshit is all that kept me going.” 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 this before.

“Why don’t you just tell me what happened? No performance. No poetics.”

“For us, everything was a performance.” A small, private smile catches me off guard and I glance down, hoping he won’t see it. “Everything poetic.”

Colborne is quiet for a moment and then says, “You win. Tell it your way.”

to backtrack, this book is a variant on The Secret History theme - it features seven theater students in their fourth year at a very elite arts college whose discipline is strictly shakespeare. they live together in an appropriately dramatic castle-like structure, slightly off the main campus - inseparable from each other, isolated from 'normal' people, and constantly immersed in tragedies filled with feuds, vengeance, and casual murders. further complications result from the particulars of the actor’s temperament:

”A good Shakespearian actor - a good actor of any stripe, really - doesn’t just say words, he feels them. We all felt 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. Imagine having all your own thoughts and feelings tangled up with all the thoughts and feelings of a whole other person. It can be hard, sometimes, to sort out which is which.”

considering this perfect storm of elements, it’s not surprising when life and art get blurred and one of them ends up dead. but is it the result of an accident or murrrrrderrrr? the events of that night are murky, but our verbiage-spouting narrator oliver marks confessed to the murder and has spent the past ten years in jail. his release coincides with the retirement of detective colborne, the lead investigator in the case, and oliver is ready to tell colborne exactly what happened that night. his way.

the story is split between oliver ‘now,’ returning to the scene of the crime with colborne, and the story of everything that went on in this cult-like group ten years ago; of a group of people obsessed with shakespeare whose relationships with each other were as complicated as any tragedy - resentments and rivalries, sexual dalliances, unrequited longing, blood relatives and lovers, straight and gay, addictions and insecurities and the fine line between acting and lying, onstage combat and real-life consequences.

it’s a debut, so there’s some first-timer clumsiness in terms of exposition - the first chapter, introducing all the players is kind of tedious, but it definitely picks up once it gets over the basic stage-setting. the scenery-chewing shakespeare stuff is a bit indulgent; shakespeare ends up doing a lot of the narrative work in what is often a pretty straightforward story, if you’ve read a lot of The Secret History type books, but there’s one interesting spin on the story: usually the narrator in these books takes the ‘outsider looking in’ role, typically separated from the group at large because of a lower socio-economic status, but in this case - yes, oliver is much less well-off than most of his peers, but i think each of the characters could claim outsider status for one reason or another, and the group is less cohesive than The Secret History norm (although it does mirror the character checklist of two relatives; cousins, not twins, one gay male, and one major asshole)

it's a good read; if you're a The Secret History readalike addict like me, it's not going to blow your mind, but it's entertaining, and i did really like the little turn at the end. it opens up a lot of questions about what will happen next, but it was a nice little surprise in a story i thought had already ended.

three and a half rounded up, and i will gladly read anything else she writes.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Ali Goodwin.
127 reviews9,657 followers
November 6, 2022
Ahhh I'm honestly SO conflicted on what to rate this book. On the one hand, it is SO well written👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 but on the other hand it was so sad😭 I wish there were more happy parts in it but that's just a personal thing because I think I've come to realize that I prefer happy/escapism books. Overall such a unique and well written read!!
Profile Image for emily .
234 reviews2,082 followers
December 31, 2020
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 murder that I need to stay quiet about. Like I am the holder of a secret so dark and unholy that I'm never going to be able to say it out loud. There is a sense of intimacy between this book and I that I have not felt towards anything else before.

“Secrets carry weight, like lead.”

The characters - a ruthless, conceited band of Shakespeare obsessed assholes - are fascinating on another level. You get to know them so intimately that you'll feel like a part of their little circle by the end of the book. No matter how unethical they are, you cannot hate them. Or maybe you will hate them, but there will always be a quiet voice inside your brain that is going to whisper: “Are you not the same as them, in a way? Would you not have done this, as well?” It's impossible to not at least forgive them for their flaws. The character work in this book is truly one of the most well-executed examples I've ever seen, and it upped my standards to an almost unreachable level. The all-consuming realness of these fictional beings is addicting. And to top it all off, the angsty homoerotic subtext that is present during all of If We Were Villains is [chef's kiss].


The allure of this book cannot really be explained, but from the aesthetic to the story it is unresistable in its charm. This is Dark Academia at its finest, with morally grey characters that will wrap you around their fingers and play with you like a cat does with a mouse. If We Were Villains is directed towards those that love complicated characters with complicated relationships and a complicated sense of morality, but also towards those that appreciate a fictional figure's palpability above anything else.

M.L. Rio tells a story that will take hold of you entirely, that will not easily let you go once you're done with it. This book will require you to give up not only plenty of hours of sleep but also your deep-rooted sense of what is right. It will force you to think beyond your interpretation of justice and it will make you feel empathy towards characters that have no scrupels. It will alter your perspective.

In my opinion, this book is unrivaled in terms of thorough character work and gripping story telling and it is from now on unquestioningly considered as one of - if not my favorite - work(s) of fiction. What an entire pleasure to be wrapped up in this deliciously dark, fucked-up story of obsession and vigilantism.
Profile Image for Riley.
424 reviews20.8k followers
March 5, 2019
well this is my favorite book of this year so far.
also I feel attacked by that ending
Profile Image for Lauralai.
295 reviews294 followers
February 16, 2023
Jesus Christ. Where do I start?

I guess I’ll begin by saying that I don’t give books a 1 star rating often.

I think what makes me angry more than anything is that this book has been praised in this community by so many who have seemed to turn a blind eye to the blatant slut-shaming and sexism that seems to pop up relentlessly.

I’ve seen few female characters written more poorly than Meredith. In the beginning of the story, all of the classmates are asked to share their biggest insecurities. Merediths is that she doesn’t want to just be seen as beautiful, sexy- she doesn’t want her body to cause people to overlook her personality and intelligence.

ALL THE AUTHOR DID was comment on her body, any time the poor girl appears, speaks or moves! Literally every. time. the. poor. girl. appears. It’s all about how sexy and irresistible she is. The author reduces her down to her looks, her sex appeal, how she uses her body to get what she wants. Apparently that’s all she’s good for. Personality? Feelings? What are those? She’s slut shamed multiple times (at one point our main character Oliver states that they’ve all called her a slut at some point in time) as are others (Oliver’s sister makes a comment about how she was the only girl at a party not wearing lingerie, bringing back the good old ‘I’m not like other girls’ trope).

Don’t even get me started on the absolute shambles of an attempt at LGBT representation! Queer-baiting! Can we put a stop to that please for the love of god :|

What I was most surprised and disappointed by was that this was written by a woman.

If you liked this book, great. I really wanted to. I skimmed the last 120 pages.
Profile Image for lucky little cat.
546 reviews102 followers
September 27, 2017
"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--"
"You know, quirkily decorated exclusive classrooms in creaking historical buildings. 'Pull up a pouf! Have some tea!' Beaky-nosed wise professors with twinkly eyes behind wire frame glasses."
"And I say, you've forgotten, that's to say, you've completely omitted any mention of the pretty bits of pretentious verbiage."
"And people are reading this willingly?"
"Seem to be, yes."
"Well, there's no accounting for taste."
"No, there certainly isn't."
Profile Image for elle.
198 reviews5,496 followers
April 22, 2022
breaking my silence: this is the secret history for dummies with annoying theater majors and you can't convince me otherwise.

if you're gonna very blatantly rip off what i consider one of the best novels ever written, at least do a good job of it. also, coming from someone who loves shakespeare to the point where she took four shakespeare courses during college, holy fuck were they unbearably annoying.

it's like off brand the secret history meets glee.

it had no nuance, no subtlety, nothing between the lines. it was basically a horrible caricature of the secret history. i'm so sorry donna tartt that you got compared to this.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,001 reviews58.9k followers
December 17, 2017
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 time in a decade. How did he end up behind bars?

That’s something Detective Colbourne would also like to know. He may have put Oliver in prison, but he knows there is more to the story than he's been told.

He can’t rest until he coaxes the entire story out of Oliver once and for all. With Colbourne retired, and with nothing else to lose, Oliver grants Colbourne his wish.

‘But that I am forbid/ To tell the secrets of my prison -house,/ I could a tale unfold whose lightest word/ Would horrow up thy soul.’

The story then flashes back ten years as Oliver walks us through the events that left him holding the bag for crimes he may or may not have been solely responsible for.

When one of the seven elite actors’ dies, the remaining six thespians are the very picture of innocence. It was an accident after all… wasn’t it? But, Detective Colbourne’s senses they know more than they are telling. Are they as innocent as they appear or are they harboring a dark secret- one that is eating away at them more and more with each passing day?

I tend to gravitate towards these types of stories, which are too few and far between, but I suppose that only makes me appreciate them even more when I stumble across one.

The Shakespearean allegory is well done, as the stage is set for the ultimate tragedy. Our little acting coalition is as thick as thieves, too close, too driven, too immersed within their own little thespian world to cope with reality as most of us know it, which leads to grave consequences, when they begin to become the roles they often play on stage. Jealousy, competition, unrequited love, anger and resentment stir the bubbling pot until ‘exuent omnes’.

I was so engrossed in Oliver’s tale, so mortified, so mesmerized and tantalized, and despite knowing most of the details of the crime in question, and that Oliver has obviously paid his debt, the suspense is still nearly unbearable, because I still didn't know WHY- or HOW things turned out this way. I was filled with such dread, I almost felt like I was back in Vermont at Hamden College listening to Richard Papen unfold a similarly horrifying tale of obsession.

But, as morally questionable as those standing center stage may be, as superficial and self-absorbed, or in some cases, as honorable, or heroic- the classic “Villains VS Heroes”, if you will, the story is haunting and left a painful ache in my heart.

“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.”

The author did an amazing job with presentation and ‘staging’, as such, and created a vivid atmosphere, perfect for settling in for a modern Shakespearean tragedy. If you are a fan of the Bard, you will really appreciate the way the dialogue mirrors the events as they unfold and of course the bittersweet irony.

This is not just a psychological thriller, it’s a literary novel filled with obsessions and angst, with beauty and horror, and a near pitch perfect delivery!

This is a debut novel, incredibly, and I for one am pretty much blown away!

Pulling out the stars for this one!
Profile Image for Mara YA Mood Reader.
332 reviews263 followers
April 20, 2020
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 fanaticism in If we were Villains. I found the characters pretentious Shakespearean dialect to be endearing. And also it’s simple to just gloss over the nonsense if it’s not your thing.

I freaking loved the narration here. Somewhere in between verse and prose, which seems like it could be problematic but, my god, this author, this is her debut and it’s freaking phenomenal!

This. Is. The. Type. Of. New. Adult. I. Want! But can rarely find! The only other that comes to mind is Red, White and Royal Blue. (If you have similar recs to both of these titles, pleeeease share!)

But the character relationships were what really held my attention rapt. And the mystery and intrigue of the plot was highly entertaining and frustrating and intense and confusing and I just freaking loved it, okay????? Okay.

I switched between the audiobook and ebook on Scribd. Neither of these formats are my preferred way of reading, especially an audiobook, but I wanted to say that I felt the audio narrator on scribd did a superb job and is the best I’ve heard so far 👏🏼. I especially enjoyed his high voice for the female characters 😆....it was pretty darn good.

*puts on big-girl panties and picks up an adult book* I can do this, right? *shaky sigh* I totally got this, I’m 34 and I can read and enjoy an adult book, right?
Profile Image for Eliza.
593 reviews1,380 followers
July 30, 2018
*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 start with how layered these characters are? (Though, I will say, I noticed the female characters could've used more depth). Should I begin with how flawlessly Rio tied in multiple Shakespearean plays into the actual plot? Or maybe, I should talk about the mystery/tension intertwined with everything that occurs throughout this novel?

You know what?

I'm going to ramble.

So. This story revolves around 7 students who are majoring in Shakespearean Studies & Acting (something like that) - and from the beginning you realize that this degree and school is no joke. It's competitive. Serious. Cut throat. Which makes it all the more intriguing. It wouldn't be half as good of a story if it took place at a "nicer school."

Getting right to it, I loved how every character had something going for them. Though, at first, it was difficult remembering who was who, and it sometimes bothered me that I couldn't picture anyone. However, those things hardly deterred me from continuing (surprisingly). The plot and depth of the characters made up for everything else. So don't be fooled and think that these characters are just your "shallow" sort of college students. In some ways, they might be. However, they're much more.

Something else that I LOVED, was the strange/strong relationship between James and Oliver. When I was reading, I kept on wondering why the heck I wanted them to end up together. Quite badly, too. I mean, by all appearances they were just friends. Plus, Oliver was head-over-heals for Meredith. And yet, I couldn't help but feel that while he lusted after Meredith, he had a very real passion for James. Just like Oliver himself says (towards the end), he himself had no idea what he and James were. Whatever it was, it was bloody brilliant.

Unfortunately, this book didn't end up in my "all time favorites." I thought it would have. Really. However, when I looked at everything, there were some dull spats throughout the story. Plus, I couldn't ignore how most of the male characters had layered personalities, whereas the female characters seemed bland. (Except perhaps Meredith, she played a big role - but in a stereotypical way).

Overall, I feel like I've given away too much - and not enough. I wish I could ramble more, but I feel like I'm not doing the story justice. I'll probably comes back and re-review this.

In the meantime, get this book!
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