Book Review: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (Shakespeare Is Dangerous) | SPOILER REVIEW

I am once again returning to the land of dark academia for a (spoiler) review of If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.


I am once again returning to the land of dark academia for a (spoiler) review of If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.

About the Book:

if we were villains by m.l. rio cover image

Title: If We Were Villains

Author: M.L. Rio

Published: 2017


Rating: 2.5/5

First line:Β β€œThe time: September 1997, my fourth and final year at Dellecher Classical Conservatory.”


The Premise:

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.

As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

My Thoughts:

So Oliver was kind of stupid.

I have quite mixed feelings on this book.

There were many things I didn’t like about it and it felt quite derivative of The Secret History.

(a story set 30-40 years ago about an elite close-knit group of pretentious college students studying some sort of ancient subject you’d never get a job in for all those good dark academia vibes, they are all way too melodramatic and sentimental, and one of them is kind of a jerk– oh, surprise, now that one’s dead. Who killed him? Read to find out! And like TSH, it’s narrated by the boy-next-door main character who feels dumb next to all of his cool, intellectual, murderous friends and whose family disapproves of him squandering their life’s savings to study the ~arts~. Some of the names are even similar: Richard?)

At the same time I did like reading it and it managed to hold my attention.

It took a week to read because of school, but it still kept me engaged.



But seriously….

The fact that Oliver went to prison for 10 years for murder b/c he took the fall for James… tragic love story? All I see is a string of very poor decisions…

Additionally, the foreshadowing was very heavy and it was not super hard to predict the plot twists.

James being Brutus when Richard was Caesar? The spotlight on James’ “is this a dagger I see before me?” Macbeth monologue….

I was slightly thrown off during the middle of the book, but I was not at all surprised at the reveal at the ending.

I knew it was going to be “Oliver took the fall for James b/c they’re in love” by the 3/4 mark and so all the suspense was gone by then.Β This book could have been a lot better if the foreshadowing had been a bit less heavy-handed or if it tried harder to distinguish itself from books like The Secret History.


The Verdict:

Overall, this was a pretty entertaining book with some flaws.

If you’re a fan of The Secret History you might enjoy it, but there are several uncanny similarities between the two.

Have you read If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

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11 comments on “Book Review: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (Shakespeare Is Dangerous) | SPOILER REVIEW”

  1. I actually liked this one way more than The Secret History πŸ˜‚ Maybe part of the reason was just my obsession with Shakespeare – I loved all of the references and thought it was so clever how the story structure even mirrored the classic five-act play! – and the fact that I read it first, but I did also really appreciate how much focus was on the actual academia aspect! (What really annoyed me about The Secret History is that we barely see the characters engaging with their university work…) But yes, I do agree with you that it was kind of predictable. Then again, that didn’t really bother me because I was so invested in the characters themselves 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. great review! i personally really enjoyed this book, i think i gave it 4 or 4.5 stars. i will say i knew absolutely nothing about shakespeare’s works before reading this so i couldn’t really draw on the parallels there haha. i’ll still have to check out the secret history at some point!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That makes sense– the main two reasons I rated the book low were 1) the predictability, which was contributed to by the parallels to shakespeare and 2) the similarity to The Secret History. Ordinarily I would have given it 3 stars, but I just thought it was *too* similar to a pre-existing book. If you liked this, though, you will definitely like TSH

      Liked by 1 person

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