All the world is a stage in M. L. Rio’s If We Were Villains

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United By Pop received a free copy of If We Were Villains in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are our own.

Title: If We Were Villains

Author: M. L. Rio

Purchase: Available in the UK and the US

Overall rating: 5/5

Great for: Fans of Donna Tartt, Mary McCarthy and Marisha Pessl



Themes: Historical, mystery and thriller

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio was undoubtedly my favourite read in the month of August and I think it has already snuck its way into my top ten favourite reads of all time! Honestly one of the cleverest narratives I have ever had the pleasure of reading and the multitude of Shakesperian refrences made this an additionally interesting, if tragic, read. . . #ifwewerevillains #mlrio #shakespeare #shakespearian #retelling #bibliophile #bookstagram #bookstagramfeature #bookishfeatures #igbooks #igreads #instabook #instareads #bookdragon #booknerd #booknerdigan #bookworm #bookgeek #bookgram #booklove #booklover #booklion #booklife #bookish #amreading #bookpic #bookporn #bookphoto #bookphotography #booksbooksbooks

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Review: “Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.”

‘If We Were Villains’ opens in the present day. Oliver Marks has been released from prison and only two people are there to greet him. One is the newly retired Detective Colborne and he wants to know the truth. The truth of what put Oliver behind bars. The truth behind the lie that has haunted his entire career. And now, finally, he might be able to get it.

Oliver transports both the detective and the reader back in time to the early 1990s. He is entering his fourth year of dramatic training at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, an elite arts college. His discipline is strictly Shakespeare, as is that of the seven friends he has shared this exclusive university experience with. This close-knit friendship group are buoyed by the knowledge of their imminent departure to the real world of theatre but are also keenly aware of the safe nest of their university home. They live together in an appropriately dramatic castle-like structure, inseparable from each other, isolated from the rest of the university populace, and constantly immersed in the tragedies that occur on stage.

As their final year progresses the group continue to perform scenes from a selection of the bard’s most infamous plays – including ‘Romeo and Juliet‘, ‘Julius Caesar‘, and ‘Macbeth‘ – and the events from within also begin to play out in their everyday lives. The fights and feuds of the stage are transported into their real lives and culminate into a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Our eyes into this world of prestige and the extraordinary is through that of the average and the everyday. Oliver, himself, is perfectly willing to admit his default is that of the average guy, the supporting best friend, that allows others the much-sought limelight. But it is through his unique perspective that the glamour is de-cloaked and we begin to see everything for what it really is.

The individual characters were immediately characterised by their acumen and strengths as actors. We were not introduced to those they pretended to embody or even the real-person behind their stage facade, as the individuals were too bound to their roles to ever imagine removing their masks. Too unaware, even, that they wore a mask at all. Each of the seven had a distinct role to play. They adhered to a strict set of stereotypes – the hero, the villain, the sultry seductress, the girl next door, the good guy – both on and off the stage. But when these roles began to merge, the structure of their friendship also began to also tilt. And with the backdrop removed, nothing was there to separate their veneer of pretence to what was going on behind the scenes.

I adored how large a focal point the language and plot lines of Shakespearean plays had on this novel. The narrative itself borrowed facets from these infamous plays but so too did the character’s dialogue. Even in their everyday conversations did they purge lines from a multitude of plays and continue to word-battle with each other, even when the conversational topic were on the most mundane of subjects. The dialogue is also often transformed into typical play format and the chapters were sequestered into acts and scenes, meaning Rio never lets the reader forget that they are an audience to a performance and the characters are all simply acting their roles.

The layers of deception run deep, but also, Rio is completely honest about revealing this. Simply put: this is one clever novel. Reality is layered upon further realities and this offers a unique and thrilling twist on some of the most infamous of Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies.

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