If We Were Villains
Author: M.L. Rio
Length: 13 hours
Narrator: Robert Petkoff
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Original Publication Date: 2017
Genre(s): Adult fiction, Mystery, Dark academia
This is the excellent foppery of the world that when we are sick in fortune—often the surfeit of our own behavior—we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting-on. —Shakespeare, King Lear
After spending ten years in prison for murder, Oliver is finally free. The man who put him there, Detective Colborne, is retiring — but before he does, he wants to know the truth: is Oliver truly guilty? What’s the real story? Oliver is finally ready to tell it, so he takes Detective Colborne back to 1997, to Dellecher Classical Conservatory. There, Oliver is one of seven fourth-year theatre students. But when you’ve dedicated your life to playing someone other than yourself, do you really know who you–or your friends–are? The morning after their infamous Halloween party, one of the seven friends turns up dead. But who among them is guilty? Are any of them actually innocent?
I’d like to begin this review with a thank you and a bravo! to my friend Heather, who so far has never recommended a book to me that I haven’t liked. In fact, I’m pretty sure I genuinely fall in love with every book she suggests I read. @Heather why are you so amazing???
If We Were Villains is a dark academia mystery told in first-person POV from Oliver’s perspective. It’s broken up into Acts and Scenes, just like a play. Each Act begins in the present, with Oliver in his thirties, out of prison and speaking with Colborne. The rest of each Act is centered in the past — Oliver’s story of what happened back in 1997. The seven theatre students have been close knit for years, but during their last year of school, things turn dark. Tensions rise, and one of them winds up dead. Oliver may have gone to prison for the murder, but did he do it?
As someone who misses college greatly and holds school close to their heart, dark academia is one of my favorite genres. If We Were Villains is set at an inclusive arts college with Shakespeare lovers as the main characters, so it was right up my alley in terms of setting and plot. My interest in the story went up and down a bit more than I’d have liked it to. I was a bit bored in the beginning, then really fell into the story leading up to the murder. A bit after that, though, I felt bored again. I’m very pleased that my interest picked up again at about 70% and held strong through to the end, because what an ending. Seriously, if you find yourself getting a little bored somewhere in the middle, it is so worth it to get to the end. I finished the book and just kind of sat with my jaw dropped a bit, trying to process the whole book all at once. Truly well done.
The characters were all likable in their own ways, except Richard. Usually I can find some sort of redeeming factor about almost any character, but I found it extremely difficult with him. He was definitely my least favorite character. James, on the other hand, was my favorite character, despite his many flaws. Also, without spoiling anything, I will say I have a very big unanswered question regarding Richard — and I’m a little irked it was never discussed in the book. It’s told entirely from Oliver’s perspective, so maybe he just…didn’t know? I mean, there’s some explanation of being too engrossed in your role as an actor, etc., but that just felt a little flimsy to me. I guess I’ll go on wondering on that one.
Despite any boredom I felt at times, or unanswered questions, If We Were Villains was a magnificent read. I love Shakespeare and his plays, I love academic settings, and I love tight friendships that start to unravel. I called the mystery very early on, but this didn’t ruin the story for me, nor did it lessen the suspense. I felt more interested in the characters and their arcs rather than the mystery. I can see why some people may dislike this book, but I personally loved it. Such a dark, atmospheric, intense read that I recommend to lovers of Shakespeare and dark academia. Though it wasn’t really spooky, per se, I’m happy that it was part of my spooky readathon this year. I think this book deserves more hype that it’s been given. Seriously, read this ASAP.