Review: If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
Wow. Thank you very much to The Secret History for inspiring this book as it was just what I needed to break up some of the contemporaries I have been getting through this month. If We Were Villains follows seven young actors studying at an elite arts college; loosely based off of The Secret History. They always end up being cast in roles that fit with their personalities, resulting in them playing the same characters on and off of the stage. There's the villain, the temptress, the hero, the tyrant etc. The book is written from the first person perspective of Oliver, the extra. His 'lowly' status undoubtedly makes this an underdog story where you can really root for the protagonist. One night, one of the friends is found dead and the others now have to act for the police, and each other, to come across as entirely blameless. I was expecting an action-packed thrill ride when I picked this book for May. Instead, what I got was an intellectually written, brooding novel with key dramatised characteristics: revenge, love, betrayal and secrecy. Rio was a Shakespearean trained actor herself, and you can tell how comfortable she is slipping in and out of use of the classic language. Her use of it throughout creates an air of superiority around all the characters, which would usually make them harder for the reader to get behind. This is not the case however, as the first half of the book goes into so much detail with fleshing out the characters that you get to know them for more than just their stereotypical on-stage personas. Throughout the book, Rio has the characters quoting lines from Shakespeare plays in amongst their regular dialogue; this creates the sense that they are truly intertwined with the characters they perform as. Are they actors in real life as much as they are on stage? The mix always keeps the reader guessing whilst elating the bravado and charisma of the cast.
It isn't necessary for you to be a Shakespeare fan to get everything you need from this read. In many ways, Rio will be introducing the language in a very accessible way - interspersed with the regular dialogue - so readers can be introduced to it steadily.
This has undoubtably become one of my favourite books I've read that's fallen under the thriller/mystery category, and will join Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key as one of my favourites from this genre of the year. A note of caution to those that entered into this with the same mindset as I did: this is not a fast-paced, nail-biting thriller. This is a complex drama with a mystery thrown in. Thriller fan or not, I encourage you to read this book. The characters are so well written, the highs and lows are plentiful and the writing is spectacular!
Initial Prediction: 4.5 stars
Final Rating: 5 stars
Publication Date: 11 April 2017 (my edition: 13 June 2017)
Publisher: Titan Books
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
# of Pages: 432