BookBrowse Reviews If We Were Villains by M L. Rio

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If We Were Villains

by M L. Rio

If We Were Villains by M L. Rio X
If We Were Villains by M L. Rio
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2017, 368 pages

    Apr 2018, 368 pages


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About this Book



A captivating story of the enduring power and passion of words that asks do we adopt the role of hero or villain, or is the role assigned to us?

22 out of 28 of our reviewers rated If We Were Villains four or five stars, giving it an overall grade of 4.4.

What it's about:

If We Were Villains raises questions of loyalty, sacrifice and selfishness. And the question remains, do we adopt the role of hero or villain, or is the role assigned to us? (Carol S)

We meet the novel's protagonist, Oliver Marks, the day he is released from incarceration, ten years after being sentenced for a crime he may not have committed: the murder of a fellow classmate at an elite theater arts school. We also encounter the policeman who was instrumental in sending him to prison and who, as it happens, has never been completely satisfied that the right person was convicted. As Oliver narrates his story we gradually learn what led to the death of one of seven very talented students in the Shakespeare program (Anna S). There are many layers to be peeled back before the truth is uncovered. There are heroes and damsels, tragedy and comedy, lovers and friends (Rebecca L). The story is part murder mystery, part unrequited love story, and part tale of the consequences of obsession - all the elements one would find in one of the Bard's classics (Diana C).

Many readers mentioned the riveting murder mystery at the book's core:

The tension held taut until the final page (Susan L). As with any good mystery, there are many plausible suspects (Anna S). The suspense builds toward the end of the book, with expert foreshadowing delivered in the Bard's own words, delivered by each potential murderer (Jackie W). Every page you wonder if this is when you'll learn what really happened (John W). The mystery kept me guessing until the reveal (Carol N). This is so cleverly done, even as you read the last page, you're saying, "Wait! WHAAAAT?" (Judy K).

Several readers agreed that the group dynamics were a highlight:

What a treat it was to read this dramatic debut novel, with each character so well rendered that one can virtually step into this circle of friends and join them as one of the characters in their Shakespearean school performances (Jackie W). There is certainly plenty of drama in the plot, but as with any good drama, the characters drive the story (Molly B). The book is a gripping examination of the roles that individuals adopt as part of a group that is as close as, or closer than family (Carol S). We learn so much about these characters, not only from the roles they play but in how they treat each other, how they behave when their loyalty is tested (Diane S). One of the things I loved most about this book was how well it portrayed that love and hate are on the same spectrum of emotion, and if you feel one it is very easily turned to the other side of the spectrum when a person is pushed to their limit (Rebecca L). The story is told in five acts and the characters play the roles common in all Shakespeare's works – the hero, villain, tyrant and the femme fatale. The author has made each of the characters genuine, likable, and sympathetic (John W). Even when I did put the book down, the characters didn't leave me (Melinda H).

Almost every reviewer mentioned the extensive Shakespeare quotations used throughout the novel:

I liked having Shakespeare dialogue inserted, it was very effective (Joyce W). The heavy use of the quotes added an interesting dimension to the characters and the book (Chris W). As the theater student's curriculum centers mostly around Shakespeare, there were many different passages from his various works woven into the story line and the conversations, and I just loved it (Rebecca L). One of the highlights for me in getting acquainted with the characters was "hearing" them converse in quotations from the plays (Anna S). I would recommend brushing up on your Shakespeare as I was more than a bit rusty and had to pause several times to do a bit of quick side research to reacquaint with plots, characters etc (Shaun D).

Some readers did feel the book had a slow start, partially due to the strong emphasis on Shakespeare's works:

I found the novel plodding and difficult to connect with (Bonnie B). The plot of the book was dragged down for me by my lack of interest in Shakespeare. The character development and pace were slow and lacking (Leah M). The book will not be for everyone. It requires at least a rudimentary knowledge of Shakespeare (there's a reference to Shakespeare on nearly every page), and in the beginning, requires close attention to keep track of the players (Jill S). At the end of 40 pages, I was thinking of dumping this book and not finishing it, that it was not my kind of book (Dorinne D).

Recommended especially for book groups, mystery fans, Shakespeare aficionados and admirers of Donna Tartt's The Secret History:

Creative arts-focused book groups take note! Here is a novel that will excite your discussion with its many layered references to the classics, the art of theater, and the coming of age of a group of earnest and dedicated young actors (Claire M). I think this book will be a surefire hit with book clubs! (Anna S). If you're into the Bard, then you've hit the jackpot. If you like a good mystery, a good story, then you, too, will enjoy this book (Judy K). Excellent for Shakespeare lovers and fans of gripping tales (Susan L). I have already recommended this book to a friend who enjoys reading Shakespeare (Dorinne D). This novel is clever in the way that Donna Tartt's The Secret History is clever -- expertly layered, gradually revealing its secrets. Take that book, merge it with Shakespeare, and you have a thriller that takes "literary" to a new level (Jill S).

Overall the book garnered rave reviews from our members

She has an incredible gift for prose. I can hardly wait for her next book! (Melinda H). If We Were Villains is an incredible read even if you are not a Shakespeare fan (John W). I loved every minute of it, thought it was brilliantly done, and was thoroughly captivated by the players and curious how it would end. A very special, well-thought-out, and well-executed debut novel (Diane S). This is one of the most intriguing, intricate and clever novels I've read in a long while. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed it (Shaun D). I am still thinking about it days after finishing it (Chris W). If I could give If We Were Villains in excess of 5 stars, I would (Diana C).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2017, and has been updated for the May 2018 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Shakespeare by Any Other Name


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