Shakespeare is the centerpiece of M. L. Rio’s first novel. Moreover, he’s the center of the wheel in which the characters revolve around. He’s the basis of the conversations, the world, the very purpose of the seven main characters in If We Were Villains. (I’m going to take a moment to quote another favorite read, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and say, “Don’t panic!”) You don’t need to have a master’s degree in Shakespeare Studies from King’s College London and Shakespeare’s Globe like Rio does to enjoy this murder mystery. Although I’m sure a basic knowledge of Shakespeare’s play structure will help, I did not find myself overwhelmed by the references and quotes. Rio fits them neatly into the the world of these students and weaves the plots of the plays she mentions in perfectly with the lives of the characters themselves.
Rio’s idea to have each character’s personality reflected through their craft was genius. When they are given roles outside of their repertoire (i.e. the hero becomes the villain and vice versa), it leaves them questioning who they really are. It left me questioning which of the seven categories I would fit in, and what would happen if I was one of these friends.
This one earned “Page Turner” status for me almost instantly. From the first page you know there has been a murder within the group of friends, and that Oliver, the narrator, has taken the blame for it. What you don’t know is the truth of the story. Rio divides the novel into five acts, much like a Shakespearean play. Oliver begins each act in the present day, speaking to the detective that put him in jail to begin with. Oliver then takes us back ten years prior, to the events that lead up to the death, and the pandemonium that follows. There are several clues in this one. Hints about what will happen in which act are hidden among the everyday banter about the lives of aspiring thespians.
As the plot thickened, I found myself feeling desperate to know the truth of what happened. I will warn you-there should be a bit of a content warning for this one. It is slightly gory, but only in a very small section. I have a pretty vivid imagination and will dream about whatever I have been reading, watching, or talking about. I’m happy to report no dreams of Shakespearean murders here! It also contains sexual content, but as Rio states, “There is nothing anatomically explicit.” There is some foul language as well.
I ultimately picked this one up for three reasons:
The ending left me feeling satisfied, and my book club had a great discussion about its meaning. If you like to go down a rabbit hole of research-you’ll understand why the ending may mean more than meets the eye.
I am so happy this book and I cross paths-so much so that it has earned a coveted spot as a five star read (not an easy task for a book on my shelves, I assure you). This book brought a lot of great discussion both online and in person for me, and I implore you to pick it up so I can talk about my feelings about it some more!
TL/DR: If We Were Villains is a page-turning coming-of-age murder confession that will leave you questioning your own role within your circle of friends.
Rating: 5/5 stars
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