Anna’s Book Nook: If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio


Photo illustration by Ann Keneally

To be or not to be… convicted of murder.

May I just begin by saying that this book was out of my comfort zone. I never trust myself when it comes to picking books and I often ask Virginia for help, but If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio called out to me. Yes, I do judge a book by its cover and yes this book has a pretty awesome cover. I need to start trusting my own judgement more often because this book was incredible or should I say “killer”.

After finishing a 10-year sentence, our protagonist Oliver recounts the events that led up to his imprisonment during his final year at the Dellecher Classical Conservatory as a performing arts student. For the sake of theatrics, I will refer to his six other classmates as the cast of our story. They include, Richard: the tyrant, Alexander: the villain, Filippa: the chameleon, Meredith: the femme fatale, Wren: the ingenue, James: the hero and of course Oliver: the side kick. The story does an amazing job of discussing roles, how we are perceived along with how we perceive ourselves.

 This extremely competitive, cultish school brings out the best in performers, but the worst in people. After tensions rise throughout the fall leading up to a performance of Julius Caesar, a student dies and everything falls apart. Sounds straightforward right? Wrong. Despite the destinies that our Shakespearean protegee cast takes on, we find that roles are relative. 

I have to say, the death was extremely predictable but I did not dislike that aspect of it. Knowing the destination but not the route makes for an amazingly interesting read as we discussed in The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I often struggle with mystery/murder books because the stories are too plot driven for me, but in this case the story is character driven and breaks away from the overused tropes. 

On almost every page, there is a Shakespeare reference or quote, which I honestly thought would get annoying. But, it didn’t because you can ignore them and still enjoy the story or read through them and gain another layer of insight into our cast’s personalities and drives.

This book truly is poetic and knowing that the author was at one point a Shakespearean actor makes the story that much better. There are so many jucy details I would love to share but would hate to give away. Seeing each character through Oliver’s eyes was truly a unique experience. As someone who considers himself the spare, he is able to observe all of the cast outside of their archetypes and maybe that is where he goes wrong, but that is truly up to you to decide. 

We all perceive ourselves in a certain way. This book shows that taking our perceived roles too seriously can sometimes cause our downfall. Sometimes Caesar can just be Caesar. We can’t take how the world looks at us to heart because in the end no trope can fully encapsulate the uniqueness of your actual character.