If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
PUBLISHER: Titan Books/Flatiron Books
PUBLICATION DATE: April 2017
RATING: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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.
This doesn’t usually happen, but I got this recommendation from an aesthetic thread. Despite starting a thread myself, I tend to not go on just aesthetic tweets about whether or not I’ll like the book because hey, it’s called aesthetics for a reason. The plot could be something terrible, awful characters, but that’s some damn good lighting in that picture of a forest. So when I saw a tweet about If We Were Villains, a book I’d never heard of, I tried to keep a level head despite it being exactly my kind of book.
If We Were Villains basically feels like The Secret History, except it’s not as long winded, and the characters are actually likeable. I do see the appeal of unlikable characters when done properly (and I did like The Secret History), but it does take a lot of effort to enjoy reading about a whole cast of characters that I could very easily punch in the face. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case for the Shakespearean actors of Dellecher Classical Conservatory and I only mildly disliked Oliver Marks, our protagonist and narrator.
A lot of the novel just happened too. Of course, that’s how a novel works, but because it was a ‘murder mystery’, I expected more to happen surrounding that fact. But actually, it was more about getting over the death of one of their frenemies while being suspicious of each other. But because the death is ruled as accidental, and because Oliver didn’t even like the person who dies in the first place, the story mostly takes place while some are recovering from the trauma whilst also dealing with other traumatic things which, sometimes were a little dramatic…but then I remembered I was reading about a bunch of Shakespeare actors who are surrounded by dancers and philosophers and Latin majors. There’s gonna be some drama.
A big thing for me when finding recs is checking up on Goodreads to see what people have tagged the book. I don’t know if this is a normal thing to do, but I like to see just in case people have tagged it something that I really don’t like or aren’t into. I also use it to see whether a book is LGBT or not. It’s actually quite frustrating when you decide to read something that readers claim have rep and it technically doesn’t, but it’s also important that sometimes other readers are unreliable. I’ve read books that so many people have labelled LGBT when what they really mean is one background character with two lines mentions they’re gay. While I’m not denying the rep, it’s another thing to call the book an LGBT book. A book shouldn’t get kudos for letting LGBT people merely exist in their fictional world.
For about 80% of If We Were Villains, I was pissed off at these labels on Goodreads. I felt like I’d been Punk’d. There is one canon gay character, and everything else is up to interpretation. However, the ending is what makes this book, and so I gotta give the other readers who tagged it LGBT credit. This is a novel that does lead up to an interesting finale, but please don’t pick this up because you’re looking for more LGBT rep; there is better, healthy, and well-written queer novels that don’t make you pick it up on false pretences. At the same time, I can see where other readers are coming from.
If you like reading about post rich kids having problems a la The Secret History and The Riot Club, then this is the book for you. If you enjoy good LGBT rep that isn’t sad and kinda samey, then don’t come to this book expecting it.