Genre: Literary Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 50 minutes
First Published: 2023
While studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver Marks and his theater classmates get caught up with dangerous drama backstage. When one student ends up dead, they use all their acting ability to convince the police that they are blameless. After serving ten years for a crime he may or may not have committed, Oliver is released and the soon-to-be retired Detective Colborne is desperate to know what really happened.
I read If We Were Villains looking for a good dark academia book that would contrast with The Cloisters for my Read This Not That post. Rio’s novel had all the dark academia vibes akin to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but you had better know Shakespeare because the references are thick and inescapable. In all, I thought the story was okay though the character motivations were undeveloped. My advice to readers is that you’ll know right away if this book is for you: if you don’t like the beginning, you’ll want to DNF instead of pushing through because it doesn’t get any better.
On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.
A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.
But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.
Quotes from IF We Were Villains
For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me.
How tremendous the agony of unmade decisions.
You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough.
About M. L. Rio
M. L. Rio is the author of If We Were Villains. Rio is currently working on a PhD in English literature. Visit the author’s website →