“Enter the Players”: If We Were Villains, A Book Review


Lizzy Khater

A picture of the front cover of If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.

Lizzy Khater, Senior Staff Writer

This book contains many adult themes and foul language. 

Enter the players. 

It all started with the seven of them. Brilliant, ambitious, young things you see? Perhaps a little too immersed in the drama, but it is only in their nature. Can you blame them? Seven zealous Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory. All fourth year students playing their designated roles: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra, and the loyal sidekick. Little did they realize, they began playing those same roles off stage as their own tragedy commenced. 

As their final year progressed, their tight-knit friendship reveals its true nature. Violence and lies. Jealousy and indulgence. Consumed by the theater; the line between fiction and reality blurred by rhyme and poetry. Can you blame them? Or is old Shakespeare at fault? Ten years later, Oliver is released from jail, and finally ready to reveal the truth. 

If We Were Villains written by M.L. Rio is a unique, college-set story of seven Shakespearean actors and the tragedy that plagues them. Told from the perspective of one of the seven—Oliver Marks. The book is split into five acts, each preceded by a short prologue set ten years into the future in which Oliver tells former detective Joseph Colborne the truth of that night and their friendship so many years ago. After the prologue comes a number of parts named “scenes” instead of “chapters”. The scenes depict the past from Oliver’s perspective as a student living and learning with his six other classmates. 

This book explores a completely extraordinary and remarkable idea, excellently crafted by M.L. Rio. Truly a unique experience, this book can be described as a blend of the genres thriller, mystery, and suspense all combined into one under the aesthetic of “Dark Academia”. The seven characters—Oliver Marks, James Farrow, Alexander Vass, Richard Sterling, Wren Sterling, Filippa Kosta, and Meredith Dardenne—are isolated in a world of leather-bound books, candle lit rooms, the red theater curtains, and blinding spotlights. Until one morning their seemingly easy-going lives take a turn for the worst. Slowly, they grow restless and unable to deal with the secrets. It is then that they face the most vital role they have to play: convincing the police and themselves of their innocence. 

As stated above, this book has themes of thriller and suspense which many people, such as Theology teacher Ms. Ann Hammer, enjoy. 

“I like thrillers because they move at such a different pace compared to books from other genres. I like the fact that there are twists and turns but they aren’t horror. They draw the reader in and leave them thinking.” Ms. Hammer said. “As you try to figure out the mystery, you have to remember what you read previously and try to connect ideas. There’s a circularity to it.”

Along with those key features, it is also a novel set in a “Dark Academia” ambiance which is intriguing to many like English teacher Ms. Daniella Moshi. 

A picture of the summary on the back cover of If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio.

“Sometimes it’s nice to have a standalone or TV show set in a school environment but with a ‘twist,’” Ms. Moshi said. 

As we journey with Oliver and the rest of the seven actors on their most difficult acting challenge yet, M.L. Rio immerses the reader in her unique world of Shakespeare and intricately woven plot. You too will learn of the truth ten years ago, and be left wondering: “What happens next?”. If We Were Villains is a beautifully written novel layered with various twists until the very end, coming to a bewildering, theory-inducing finale. It is for those reasons and more that I rate the book a 5 out of 5 stars.

Exeunt omnes.