Today I’m very excited to be a stop on the blog tour for If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. Compared to Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, which in itself hugely intrigued me as I really love that novel, this looks set to be a great debut – read on to find out what I thought (warning – slightly rambly review coming up, as I felt there was so much to say about it!)
Title: If We Were Villains
Author: M.L. Rio
Publisher: Titan Books
Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends – a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago.
As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else’s story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into 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.
If We Were Villains is a clever, beautifully written book which combines the old with the new, focusing on young students at a prestigious drama school studying and performing Shakespeare’s work. When one of their tightly knit group is killed, they start to – as Oliver puts it – “fall apart”. Was it really an accident, and if so, who killed them?
The story starts in the present day, often reverting back to this timeframe as the story continues, but also effectively draws the reader back to a time before this tragic occurrence. It shows us the lead up to the night when everything changed – and then beyond that night, as we learn how this has affected the group and gauge their reactions. It’s all told from Oliver’s point of view.
The narrative is split into acts and scenes, which is fitting for a book which includes so much Shakespeare. There were also various parts which lapsed into formatting just like a play, which I found really interesting and something a little different too. The writing is beautiful and the plot is really well crafted, making for an engaging read.
Despite having studied English Literature at university myself, the constant quoting from Shakespeare by the students did get a little annoying for me at times. It’s not that I don’t think drama students would slip lines into every speech – in fact, I’m sure they would – but it’s just that, for me, it sort of stopped the words flowing, and I had to look twice to work out what was being said. I think if there had been around half the quotes there was, I’d have found it easier to read. However I completely understand why these quotes were included, and it’s the characters who were throwing the quotes around in what felt like a really pretentious way, not the writing itself. I felt that many of the characters were rather selfish, very privileged students who often came across as having an over-inflated sense of self-worth. There were times when I really questioned Oliver and his friend’s reactions and thoughts on certain matters – there’s a rather selfish reaction I particularly remember, when Oliver learns that his sister’s eating disorder treatment means his parents can’t afford to pay for his college tuition anymore (though we have to remember that his dad was always against him studying drama instead of a more ‘solid’ subject such as law).
However, despite my irritation at the rather spoilt characters, I did really enjoy reading about their dramatic behaviour (they are drama students, after all!) and the fact that I didn’t particularly like them only made me more intrigued as to who had been involved in the mystery.
There’s plenty of both hinted and overt sexual tension, and the complex nature of human relationships (especially when you’ve all shared a common traumatic experience) is really interesting to read about. I loved the skilled writing of M.L. Rio and think this is a beautifully crafted debut – highly recommended.
Many thanks to Titan Books for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour.
About The Author
M. L. Rio was born in Miami and raised in North Carolina by parents from California, and has never been able to satisfactorily answer the question, “Where are you from?” She spent most of her childhood in Middle Earth or Neverland or Wonderland, attended Hogwarts for a number of years, and eventually graduated from the real-life University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in English and dramatic art and a minor in creative writing. Storytelling has always been her specialty.
Check out the other stops on the blog tour below: