If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio

Summary: 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.

Ten years 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, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, 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. (From Goodreads)

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a sucker for books about performing arts (see: my review for Noteworthy.) This book was clearly written with someone who harbors that same love. This isn’t so much a story based around Shakespeare as it is a love letter to Shakespearian tragedies. The characters are so immersed in the playwright’s world that they straight up quote his lines at each other. AS IF IT’S A NORMAL PART OF CONVERSATION. But you know what? I knew kids like this (theatre kids are weird. I should know.)

A lot of people will draw conclusions to The Secret History and, while I haven’t finished that book yet – don’t look at me like that – I understand. Group of college kids, one of them gets murder, why???, etc, etc. But this book stands alone in it’s own right. In fact, I breezed through it faster than I’m reading The Secret History. 

I knocked off a star because some of the parts felt clunky, which I think is understandable for a debut novel. The main character’s sister has anorexia, which is sort of randomly introduced as a plot device rather than an actual struggle for the character. I guessed the perpetrator fairly early on so it sort of felt like the author was dragging me to the conclusion.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this story. If you like Shakespeare, I think that will triple your enjoyment. If you don’t like Shakespeare, I’m sorry your English teacher sucked.

Rating:  ★★★★☆

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