If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

photo courtesy of google images

photo courtesy of google images

Sadie Mae Todd, staff writer

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a novel that centers around a group of fourth-year theater students at a prestigious university program in Illinois. All is well until their typical casting gets flipped on its head, forever changing the power dynamics of the group. At the beginning of the novel, the reader is introduced to Oliver Marks, one of the students, who is being released from prison for a crime that we aren’t clear whether he committed or not. The novel follows the tale, as told by Oliver, as he is waiting to be released. If We Were Villains explores many themes such as friendship, academia, accountability, and trauma. What the novel excels at is plot and form.

The novel’s plot is wonderfully crafted. With an academic setting taking place in the fall, it sets the story up for something dark and mysterious. During the fall semester, a tragedy unexpectedly hits the group of students, leaving each student with an equal combination of grief and guilt. Fast forward to the winter semester, and the unexplained circumstances of this tragic event reveal itself in an epic twist and unexpected ending. Since there were many loose ends in this story left unanswered, the mystery of what happened felt unpredictable in the best ways. In combination with the novel’s form, this soon became a book I will never forget.

Just like many Shakespeare plays, If We Were Villains follows a common theatrical structure. The novel is separated into three acts, all divided into scenes and prologues. Even the dialogue follows a play’s structure when characters are speaking consecutively—listing character names instead of separate paragraphs. I enjoyed Rio’s Shakespearean allusions, and the way some of the plot points and character development resembled a lot of the playwright’s work. 

If you are someone who loves Shakespeare, or loves a bit of theater, this novel will send you on a three-act roller coaster of suspense and romance. The ending of If We Were Villains left me speechless and had me thinking about the entirety of the novel for a few days after reading. Even if you aren’t someone who likes the above, the novel’s fantastic character development, mystery, and dark academia will draw you in. I suggest picking this novel up with your favorite hot beverage, an oversized sweater, and waiting for the air to chill to feel the full effect of this thrilling novel.