*If We Were Villains will be released Tuesday, April 11th!*
If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio. Flatiron Books, 2017. Hardcover. 352 pages.
*I received an ARC of If We Were Villains in exchange for an honest review.*Before I dive into this review, I want to give a little bit of background about why I was so excited for this book to come out and how I first stumbled across. If you're not interested in any of that, then feel free to jump past this paragraph. About a year or so ago I stumbled across this great blog on Tumblr called Duke of Bookingham. I loved the blog and the personality behind it—everything was very anonymous, so I had no idea who the identity of the blog owner was. Now, the 'Duke' had mentioned a few times that she was having a book published, but that she was leaving things separate and anonymous until it was closer to the book being released. Now, based off of how much I loved her blog, I had a really good feeling that I would love whatever she wrote, so when the Duke finally connected her book blog and author blog and revealed herself as M. L. Rio, author of the upcoming book If We Were Villains, I was beyond thrilled. And then when I discovered the summary and genre of the book, well, I knew I had to read it.
If We Were Villains fall into the category of books often likened to The Secret History, which is one of my all-time favorite books, hands down. That genre—close knit group of students, secrets that are potentially deadly, an almost unhealthy obsession with a certain area of study, etc.—is also one of my favorite genres, and I am such a sucker for any book like that (if you also like that genre, then may I also recommend you try out Black Chalk by Christopher Yates?). Because of this, I had extremely high expectations for this book, which actually made me a bit hesitant, but everything turned out quite splendidly, as I will begin discussing now.
If We Were Villains (abbreviated as IWWV for the rest of this review) centers on seven college theatre students in a program dedicated to studying and performing Shakespeare's many masterpieces. During their final year and while preparing for their production of "Julius Caesar," a tragedy occurs that forever alters the course of each person's life. The story starts out with Oliver, the protagonist, as he is just being released from prison.
As a debut author, M. L. Rio does an incredibly job at crafting an incredible involved, intricately told tale filled with strong characters and an enticing plot.
The beginning was a little rocky for me, as there was quite a large amount of exposition that bogged me down a bit. Each character was introduced in quite a bit of detail and in a manner that didn't seem to flow as well as it could have, but I had faith and kept on. Fortunately, this rockiness in the beginning completely flattened out and the rest of the book was pretty smooth sailing from there.
I loved the characters in IWWV. We have Oliver, Alexander, James, Richard, Meredith, Filippa, and Wren, and the story is told entirely in Oliver's first person narrative, which alternates between the present and his retelling of past events. At first, I was nervous about the fact that this group of friends consisted of seven different people. It's not that I don't like large casts, but I was worried that certain characters would fade into the background or would be too similar in voice and personality to be able to tell apart. My worries were needless, however, as each and every character had so much vitality and so many unique qualities that I had no problem telling one from the other.
Rio is clearly a gifted writer. Throughout this novel, there are beautiful descriptions of emotions and scenes that urged me to go back and re-read them, and Rio's use of foreshadowing is extremely artful and carefully done. I thought it was particularly interesting to have her character regularly having conversations and quoting lines from Shakespeare, because they really seemed to cement the impact and influence his works have had and would continue to have in each character's life. My only caveat with this, however, was that I felt that sometimes Rio was just a bit too heavy-handed with the Shakespeare dialogue, and I wouldn't have mind if it was toned down ever so slightly.
I definitely think that this book may have a slightly stronger impact on readers who are theatre students or also have a deep love of the works of Shakespeare. In fact, the love/obsession of Shakespeare in this book is something that I actually appreciated, because it showed me just how much Rio herself loves this man's work. Before I even knew this book existed, I was aware of her passion for the Bard, and I love how much it comes through. There is nothing more exciting and meaningful to me than being able to see an author's true passion for their subject really shine forth.
Overall, I recommend this book to any who love a little intrigue, strong character development, and/or anyone who loves books in the same genre as The Secret History. I've given it four stars!
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