Book Review: If We Were Villains
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Author: M.L. Rio Affiliate Link Buy Here buying from this link doesn't cost you any more money, but supports the running of this blog.
Summary: 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.
If We Were Villains is a wickedly charming novel. It's laced with layers of misunderstanding and unrequited love, Shakespeare and a school you only wish you could be a part of, and characters you can't even begin to fully understand. It dances with angst and circles the drain of mystery, even if you are already convinced that you know who did the crime.
But all is not as it seems.
This book acts out a performance at the same time as the characters act out Shakespeare's greatest works, leaving as much out as it includes—similarly to the playwright's work. It’s characters fit neatly into a box at first sight, but as you peel the layers back, they become so much more you’re not sure who you’re watching.
For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me.
Having Oliver unveil the story is a fantastic choice by the author. His voice gives shades to the work the others wouldn’t be able to pull off, and his goodness and naive nature really sell the plot. To the point, at times you convince yourself the villain isn’t the villain at all, and you half-wish for a happy ending, but you know it won’t come.
My one issue with this piece is the writing of two female characters in particular. They seem so settled on being used by those who are ignoring the apparent feelings staring them in the face. I can forgive this partially because of the age of the characters, but even when the story begins to wrap up, we find one—in particular—slips back into the same place they had done ten years prior. If the idea is for you, as the reader, to dislike them, I’d say it’s a job well done, but I imagine you’re meant to see more of her. See what she is capable of under all of her curves and larger-than-life personality. In the few moments of vulnerability, I think I could have liked her, but her choices left a bitter taste in my mouth. A feeling that repeated with the other female when she too said ‘yes’ to being a pawn in a much larger game.
However, even with that occurring, I feel like it didn't stop how much I needed to know what happened. It didn’t stop me from tearing through the acts like a woman on a mission, and it didn’t stop the book from leaving a dent in me.
The unveiling of the story, the murder, and the way the author takes us on a trip of the months leading up to it is poetic and haunting. It sits in the back of your mind that anyone could have been a part of it, and yet, you don’t want to believe that anyone would.
These characters, in the beginning, were ones I would not choose to befriend if they were in my real life, and yet, I loved each of them for exactly who they were. Actors who ruin you, but speak such beauty and are as addicted to Shakespeare as you are to books. In a way, the part of them I dislike is the part of myself I choose to ignore. They’re them to a fault, hungry and wild, but also self-assured and confident, all traits that are often painted negatively, and yet by the end, I couldn’t think of it that way.
We had, like seven siblings, spent so much time together that we had seen the best and worst of one another and were unimpressed by either.
Overall, the will-they-won’t-they of two characters had me on the edge of my seat, making the entire ride more painfully addictive than it needed to be—but I wouldn’t change that for a second. The deep wishing inside of me that they have one single moment of truth came crashing down in the final pages, and I think that was a smart move, and one I respect. It was for this and the poetic-storytelling that I rated the story the score I've given.
M.L. Rio uses skill and word mastery to tell this story, broken up into acts and scenes that attempt to pull you from your comfort zone, all for the ride to throw you off the scent.
This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, and one I’ll be tearing through again, in the hope of catching the trail of breadcrumbs M.L. Rio left for us.
What is more important, that Caesar is assassinated or that he is assassinated by his intimate friends? … That,’ Frederick said, 'is where the tragedy is.