✨ jamieson ✨'s Reviews > If We Were Villains

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
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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.





OKAY AND NOW I'M TALKING ABOUT MY THEORY ON THE END SO SPOILERS !!! 🚨🚨
🚨🚨🚨🚨

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!
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Reading Progress

April 30, 2018 – Shelved
April 30, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
May 31, 2018 – Shelved as: adult
May 2, 2019 – Started Reading
May 2, 2019 –
page 68
15.74% "Mildly salty that of all the Shakespeare plays I’ve read, only the ones I haven’t play a role in this so far"
May 3, 2019 –
page 175
40.51%
May 4, 2019 –
page 264
61.11% "“When did we become such terrible people”
“Maybe we’ve always been terrible.”"
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: 2019-reads
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: bi-mc
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: contemporary
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: favorites
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: lgbtqiap
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: m-m
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: owned-books
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: queer-side-characters
May 6, 2019 – Shelved as: mystery
May 6, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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rhiannon i LOVED this book and i read it for the same reason. the dark acedemia genre needs more books for me to consume!


✨    jamieson   ✨ rhiannon wrote: "i LOVED this book and i read it for the same reason. the dark acedemia genre needs more books for me to consume!"

AGREED. I feel like the main two everyone references are the secret history and kill your darlings and thats well and good but I need MORE. It's the perfect genre and there is not enough content. I'm so ready to read and love this book tbh


message 3: by Charlotte (new) - added it

Charlotte this is a pretty astounding summary of all the things i care about


Gelisvb I loved it


✨    jamieson   ✨ Charlotte wrote: "this is a pretty astounding summary of all the things i care about"

HAHA congrats you have GREAT taste


✨    jamieson   ✨ Gelisvb wrote: "I loved it"

EVERYONE loves it I can't wait to read it


Kyle Read it. Live it. Love it.


✨    jamieson   ✨ Kyle wrote: "Read it. Live it. Love it."

Taryn (Taryn and Her Books) wrote: "JAMI READ IT PLS"

IM GOING TO OKAY ONE OF THESE DAYS I WILL OKAY I PROMISE

I put it in my Top 2019 TBR's okay it's this year or bust


G E O R G I A We stan all the writers of dark academia who lets us read about a bunch of kids living their best life being gay and committing crimes


HeartlessFaeKing 🔮 The thing about gay dark academia is such a mooood ❤️


Maria THAT’S PRECISELY HOW I FELT ABOUT THIS BOOK AND GUESS WHAT? I WAS RIGHT


Rian *fire and books* Then yup, you’re gonna love this one. If you can the audiobook is FANTASTIC as well


✨    jamieson   ✨ G E O R G I A wrote: "We stan all the writers of dark academia who lets us read about a bunch of kids living their best life being gay and committing crimes"

truly I LIVE FOR IT. I am but a humble gay who fantasises about being a pretentious art hoe and solving murders in my gritty college with my pretentious art hoe friends who I stare at for a little too long for it to be just friendly


✨    jamieson   ✨ HeartlessFaeKing 🔮 wrote: "The thing about gay dark academia is such a mooood ❤️"

IT IS THE FREAKIN BEST AND THERE IS SIMPLY NOT ENOUGH OUT THERE


✨    jamieson   ✨ Rian *fire and books* wrote: "Then yup, you’re gonna love this one. If you can the audiobook is FANTASTIC as well"

Maria wrote: "THAT’S PRECISELY HOW I FELT ABOUT THIS BOOK AND GUESS WHAT? I WAS RIGHT"

I AM CONFIDENT !!! And omg ...... I am so tempted to just go use my audible credit on the audiobook now then


HeartlessFaeKing 🔮 AGREE 💕


message 18: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Dark academia with pretentious Secret History-esque characters obsessed with Shakespeare and living for the drama? Why yes, it is fantastic. One of my favorite reads last year!


Sadie -+- Constellatiion okay i love this book to the moon and back and yes exactly i completely agree with everything about this


✨    jamieson   ✨ Tom wrote: "Dark academia with pretentious Secret History-esque characters obsessed with Shakespeare and living for the drama? Why yes, it is fantastic. One of my favorite reads last year!"

CANNOT WAIT. Pretentious characters reading shakespeare are pretty much the only ones I care about urgh


✨    jamieson   ✨ Sadie -+- Constellatiion wrote: "okay i love this book to the moon and back and yes exactly i completely agree with everything about this"

YESSSS literally everyone loves this book it is impossible to dislike I'm ready


message 22: by Sonja (new) - rated it 1 star

Sonja You had me at this is like The Secret History


message 23: by Natalie (new) - added it

Natalie On my TBR after this review 💪


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