Book Review: If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

Hi friends! It’s been a while since I’ve popped my head in over here; a lot of big and exciting things have been happening for my family and I’ve taken a few months to just enjoy and prepare for all of the big changes to come. With that being said, I have been reading (I actually read more in 2020 than I have in the past five years combined, but more on that later), and you know when I read a book so amazing that it moves my soul and shatters my heart, I have to come here and shout into the void about it. If you’re interested in hearing more about it, keep on reading.

Publication – April 2017 by Flatiron Books

Genre – Mystery/Contemporary/Dark Academia

Possible trigger warnings for abuse, mentions of eating disorders and suicide mention.

If We Were Villains spans ten years and tells the story of a close-knit group of Shakespeare actors in the final year of their studies at an elite arts college. Oliver Marks, after spending those ten years in prison for a murder that he may or may not have committed, is ready to tell the full story to the, now-retired, detective who arrested him all those years ago and is desperate to know the truth of what happened that night. We are told the story in a series of flashbacks to the events of ten years ago that caused their group to unravel, and the night that changed everything irrevocably.

I loved so many things about this book. I am, and always will be, a student at my very core, so dark academia really speaks to my soul. I loved the atmospheric university setting; it was captivating and haunting, perfectly inspired by the events of the book. The writing style was something else that really spoke to me. Be warned though, this books quotes a lot of Shakespeare. A LOT. It’s woven into every aspect of the narrative, so if you’re not a Shakespeare fan, you might find this off-putting or pretentious, but I loved it all the more for those things. I love elegant, flowery, pretentious writing, so this book checked all of my boxes. Above all of that, though, my most favorite aspect of this book is the characters. My god, do I love the characters. They’re all witty, driven, complex and flawed and you can’t help but love them for it, morally grey as they may be. Found family is one of my favorite tropes to read, and this friend group is the dictionary definition of found family; they’re so deeply tied to each other and would do anything to protect each other.

Another thing I loved about this book is I never found myself bored. I finished it in less than 6 hours, in just two sittings. I couldn’t put it down, and it’s partly due to the twists that wouldn’t stop coming. Just when I thought I had a character figured out, or thought I had the mystery solved, I was thrown another curve ball that left me a bit off kilter and wondering what was going to happen next. The reveal at the ending especially shattered my heart, and the book is worth reading just to experience that moment alone. Unsurprisingly, I rated this 5-stars, and it earned a permanent spot on my favorites shelf. I would absolutely recommend this book to a friend, or even an enemy. If you haven’t read this book yet and you want to, this is where I leave you, friends. Feel free to leave me a comment, I’d love to chat with you, just make sure to close your eyes and avoid the spoilers. Until next time y’all, happy reading!

**This concludes the spoiler-free portion of this review. I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil something for you beyond this point, so read on at your own risk**

Okay, I need to scream about the entire ending. First of all, I’m not saying that I never suspected James as the murderer, just that my intense love for him clouded my judgement until the last 30 or so pages. My heart ached for him as I watched him slowly unravel with guilt, and I wanted nothing more than to protect him. (I have more things to say about James and a certain reveal in the last bit of the book, but I can’t talk about that yet). I also loved the uncertain yet clearly profound relationship between Oliver and James; it was evident to me from their first interaction on page that there was something more to their relationship than what appeared on the surface, and it was heartbreaking to watch them both come to terms with what those feelings might mean. As I approached the end of the book, and it became clear to me that James was the murderer, I understood how Oliver ended up in prison; because he couldn’t bear the thought of his best friend, the man he loves, enduring that, even before he knew the depth of his feelings. GOD, I’m just so emotional about it. And as if that wasn’t enough, watching Oliver find out that James committed suicide a few years prior to his release absolutely broke me. It was like a dagger to the heart; I couldn’t breathe, and I was grieving as if I’d just lost the love of my life. But that brings me to the next plot twist, nestled right in the last couple pages: is James really dead? The author leaves this up to the readers for interpretation, but my theory is no, he can’t be dead, but maybe it’s my romantic heart wishing for him to have faked his death and is waiting for Oliver to find the clues. We’ll never know, but I’m going to remain content thinking that it has to be the only logical conclusion. If you stuck around this long, please let me know what you thought of this book, if you have any theories, and in general, if you want to yell about this book, I am here for you. Until next time, happy reading.

-H.

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