If We Were Villains: A Book Review

if we were villains

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a captivating mystery novel set in the world of a prestigious arts school. The story follows a group of young actors who become entangled in a web of jealousy, ambition, and murder. This book is a must-read for anyone who enjoys dark, character-driven stories with a literary twist.

How is the plot of the book?

The story is centered around seven students at the Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a prestigious arts school that specializes in Shakespearean theater. These students Oliver, James, Meredith, Wren, Richard, Alexander, and Filippa form a close-knit group that lives and breathes Shakespeare. Their lives revolve around their intense study and performances of the Bard’s works.

As the students enter their fourth and final year, the dynamics within the group begin to shift. Long-standing tensions and rivalries come to the surface, leading to a tragic event that changes their lives forever. 

One of them ends up dead, and another is convicted of the crime. The story is told from Oliver’s perspective, both in the present day, after he has served ten years in prison, and in flashbacks to the events leading up to the murder.

Who are the characters?

The characters in If We Were Villains are complex and well-developed. Each member of the group has their own distinct personality and role within the ensemble. 

Oliver, the protagonist, is thoughtful and introspective, often finding himself caught between his loyalty to his friends and his own moral compass. James, his best friend, is talented but tormented, struggling with his own inner demons.

Meredith is the beautiful and ambitious actress who thrives on attention and admiration. Wren is the shy and sensitive one, while Richard is the intense and dominant leader of the group. Alexander and Filippa provide comic relief and balance, but they too have their own depths and secrets. 

The interactions and relationships between these characters drive the story forward and add layers of complexity to the plot.

What is the theme?

One of the most striking aspects of If We Were Villains is its exploration of themes such as friendship, loyalty, ambition, and the fine line between performance and reality. The novel delves into how the characters’ immersion in Shakespearean drama influences their actions and decisions in real life. The lines between their roles on stage and their true selves blur, leading to tragic consequences.

The book is rich in literary references, particularly to Shakespeare’s plays. The characters often quote lines from his works, and the themes of the plays they perform mirror the events in their own lives. This adds a layer of depth and intrigue to the story, making it a treat for literature lovers.

How is it written?

M.L. Rio’s writing style is engaging and eloquent. The prose is both poetic and accessible, making the complex emotions and situations easy to understand. Rio’s background in theater and literature shines through in her detailed and vivid descriptions of the performances and the characters’ interactions.

The pacing is well-balanced, with a mix of reflective moments and intense, dramatic scenes that keep the reader hooked.

Strengths of the book

If We Were Villains excels in character development and creating a haunting, immersive atmosphere. The author’s deep understanding of Shakespearean themes and how they apply to modern life is impressive. 

The story is compelling and keeps you guessing until the end. The dual timeline, switching between Oliver’s past and present, adds suspense and depth to the narrative.


If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a fascinating blend of mystery, drama, and literary fiction. Its well-crafted characters, engaging plot, and exploration of deep themes make it a standout novel. 

Whether you are a fan of Shakespeare or simply enjoy a good mystery, this book offers a rich and rewarding reading experience. The story’s dark and captivating atmosphere, combined with its complex characters, ensures that it will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Some Questions (FAQs)

What is If We Were Villains about?

The book follows seven students at a prestigious arts school who become involved in a tragic event that leads to one of their deaths and another’s imprisonment. The story is a mix of mystery, drama, and literary fiction.

Who is the main character in If We Were Villains?

The main character is Oliver, one of the seven students, who tells the story both from his perspective in the present day and in flashbacks to the events leading up to the murder.

What themes does If We Were Villains explore?

The novel explores themes such as friendship, loyalty, ambition, and the blurred line between performance and reality. It heavily references Shakespearean drama and themes.

Is knowledge of Shakespeare necessary to enjoy the book?

While familiarity with Shakespeare enhances the experience, it is not necessary to understand and enjoy the book. The story and characters are compelling on their own.

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