if we were villains by m.l. rio – book review || dark academia, shakespearean societies, and a new favorite.

*clears throat* As always, I find it a never-ending need to explain my absence from this blog, but rest assured this time I think I’m here to stay for good.

HELLO!! It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted due to a varying amount of reasons – mainly being school (who was going to tell me to not take physics as a subject hm??) and also just being being purely unmotivated to blog. I don’t really have the time to blog hop any more which is SO ANNOYING, and very frankly speaking, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to blog hop completely. I also don’t interact with other posts frequently nowadays which makes me very mad indeed, but hopefully I’ll get myself back-together and go back to my good ol’ commenting self again -that is if I don’t procrastinate *I’m going to procrastinate*

In other news, did you realise something completely different about this?? Is it perhaps- no it couldn’t beA BOOK REVIEW?!?! I posted my last proper book review around the same time last year and I need to come back with a proper bang right??? So here it is, me FINALLY fulfilling my promise after a whole year :,) I think I’m just weirdly scared of putting all my thoughts about a certain book all in one spot mainly because I feel like I can’t remember half of them, but oh well since I am technically blogging about books it’s time to finally start.

*spoilers ahead*

“Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago. As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.”

*summary adapted from goodreads*

The plot of this book is very similar to most of the standard dark academia books you can find out there- a bunch of pretentious college students going out of their way to murder someone. I found the plot of this to be extremely similar to The Secret History by Donna Tartt- but in a better, more well refined way if that makes sense. We follow two timelines- one in the past ten years ago, and one in the present, but the one in the past is the more prevalent one throughout. Our characters are all studying theatre, and are all dedicated to the man, the myth, the legend, Shakespeare– so expect A LOT OF random spewing of Shakespeare in the middle of the daily dialogue. The plot centres our six characters as the revolve throughout their lives in their new college lives with a the formation of a blossoming messed up found family in between them.

Oh and of course we can’t forget the murder.

This is definitely supposed to be a character based book and most of them are the extremely flawed and deranged in their way of thinking, but in some way or another you get so involved in their lives and become immensely attached to them- making most of them lovable to an extent by the end. Now keep in mind none of the characters themselves are that idiosyncratic but rather I felt that their interactions with one another really brought life to this book. I did initially find it hard to keep up with seven characters in the beginning, since my brain is in no way hardwired to handle more than three characters, but I mean things did become easier when one of them died… 💀

Oliver, the main character is an interesting one. I’ve seen a lot of mixed opinions about him, people either love him or hate him, but I think I really adored him. Perhaps it’s because he’s the main character and the book is told from his point of view so I may be just a teensy bit biased here. I don’t have any strong sense of hatred towards him but at the end I do feel extremely pitiful for him- all the pain he went through and with everything he sacrificed for James, that ending was not sympathetic towards him.

James, aaahh what do I say about James. He’s the lovable golden boy of the group- the hero in a way- and of course I really like him, but I think I mainly like his relationship with Oliver. The complexities of their bond and how they figured out what they meant to each other- NOW THAT is what got to me at the end.

Now I’ll be very honest with you, from here on I don’t really care about any of the characters. I found them insignificant and the female characters were definitely one-dimensional and under-developed, that was one of my main critiques of the book. Fillipa was the most mysterious and a character I would’ve loved to know more about but unfortunately her character was left to wither away in the dust 🥲 I desperately wanted to know about her backstory so that we could at least try to connect to her a little bit more.

I really don’t like Meredith. Her relationship with all of the characters was a bit messed up especially her confusion between Richard and Oliver. I’m indifferent towards Wren as well, because I very honestly speaking, don’t even remember what role she played in the book. Similarly with Alexander, he wasn’t the most vital part of this book but his presence did feel necessary- binding the group in a distorted sort of way.

Moving onto Richard- the tyrant, the villain, the “Bunny from the secret history” of this book. Truly despicable throughout, I hated how he treated the rest of his so-called-friends. His treatment towards Meredith was absolutely disgusting throughout as well.

The writing is absolutely immaculate. M.L. Rio is a genius when tying in Shakespearean references with her own plot line and story. Though I’m not the biggest fan of Shakespeare(okay fine I’m not even anything close to a fan) the juxtaposition between the plays and characters was simply gorgeous. The random quotes inserted in between character dialogues did throw me off though since I could only recognise the popular ones easily, but thankfully the internet has saved the day once again! (go wikipedia summaries!)

Moving onto the topic of the comparisons of this with the secret history- I did find a LOT of similarities. Straight down to the character’s names and right to their personalities, there’s no doubt that this draws inspiration from that book. However i think that If we were villains takes the concept and visualisation of the secret history and transforms and executes it in a much better way.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not going to diss on the original dark academia staple – but this book is everything the secret history wanted to be and more. Arguably sure, Donna Tartt has more vivid and descriptive writing but I feel that M.L. Rio truly captures the essence of theatre- all the dramatics and acting are clearly expressed in her writing. It’s also SO MUCH more digestible and accessible compared to The Secret History which took me a solid one month to read. Not the best for my reading goal nor my mental health I’ll have to say.

All the characters from the secret history are despicable in every sense possible, I would actually be concerned for you if you related to any of them. But the characters of if we were villains (well at least two of them) felt much more deep and personal to me and I especially connected to Oliver. Not saying they aren’t deranged as well because they certainly are but think of them as a little bit less insane. Now of course relatability is not something that’s required to keep an book entertaining, however for me personally, it’s something I look towards, something that exuberantly enhances my reading experience especially for a genre like dark academia where characters are arguably the main focus excluding the vIbEs and the atmosphere.

In the end, If we were villains is a masterpiece that’s delicately crafted to make the reader feel every possible emotion out there. It tugs at your heartstrings, and makes you immersed in the world of theatre and Shakespeare, even if you’re an avid Shakespeare disliker like myself. M.L Rio takes you on a joyride of feelings and words- it’s simply an unforgettable experience. I’d highly recommend checking this out if you’re in the mood for something dark academia with stellar writing and of course to all my theatre kids out there- this one is for you.

Also check out my Instagram post linked below for a few more annotations and a little frantic review ! (hehe shameless self plug)

Do you like dark academia?? If so, what’s your favourite book from the genre?? Have you read if we were villains (PLEASE SCREAM WITH ME IF YOU HAVE) How are you all doing??

That’s it for this review, GASP I actually wrote one after all these days and it wasn’t… half-bad?? I actually may or may not have enjoyed it…? Well rest assured I’ll hopefully be posting more frequently on here and blog-hopping a lot more soon!

Thank you so much for reading!!


15 thoughts on “if we were villains by m.l. rio – book review || dark academia, shakespearean societies, and a new favorite.

  1. Ahh I’ve heard of this book, but I’m not sure if it’s on my TBR so I’m definitely adding it! I’ve only ever read one dark academia but I’d love to read more – so I’ll try and read this next! 😆

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this review!!! I adore this book and had so much fun reading your comments on it, especially your annotations (your handwriting is so nice!). I really agree with you about Fillipa, I wish I had gotten more about her too, she was such an enigma. And I really loved the complex relationship between Oliver and James, it’s likely my favourite part of the novel

    Liked by 1 person

  3. AHHHH, SUHANI!! I’m so thrilled you deemed this a masterpiece overall, even if you thought some of the characters were a bit flat – because I absolutely adore If We Were Villains! 🥰 You’re right, Oliver is a precious, pitiful cinnamon roll, and he deserves all the love in the world!!

    The only thing that could use some work is your enthusiasm for Shakespeare 😜 The bard is AWESOME, okay? You need to appreciate his brilliance more! 🎭

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ahhhh happy to see your mind being blown by this book as well! It’s one of my favourite s this year. If I have any complaints about this book it would be that meredith needed to be fleshed out more but that’s it. And as a former shakespeare theatre kid, I loved that the characters were studying drama so much, some of their exercises felt so relatable to me.
    Great review!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. aw… Suhani!! Lovely to see a post from you and such a wonderful review as well. This is a really interesting book, you can definitely see it takes inspiration from a lot of things quite closely but it is weirdly successful at doing it better… which is a neat skill. I do think it could have benefitted from being a bit longer to explore other aspects, like you say the female characters could have been so much more. But definitely effective at what it was aiming for. I really loved this review, soo good! And the pictures included as well *chef’s kiss* IT’S A MASTERPIECE OF A POST!! 🥰😍 p.s. i hope school is going well!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. AH SUHANI THIS REVIEW IS AMAZING!!! i feel you on not having time to do ANYTHING blogging-related, it’s so frustrating!!

    i just bought this book finally so i can relive all the glory and your review is making me SO excited for my reread! your annotations are beyond impeccable too. and like you said, the female characters could have been so much better but james and oliver’s relationship was definitely *chef’s kiss*

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “but rest assured this time I think I’m here to stay for good” THE FAMOUS INTRODUCTION.

    but its ok. i shall not scream too much BECAUSE WE MUSTNT GET ON YOUR BAD SIDE. we still need the posts even if they ARE late, right?? HENCE I SHALL STOP. FOR THE POSTS. I LOVE THEM.


    also. THIS: “I think I’m just weirdly scared of putting all my thoughts about a certain book all in one spot mainly because I feel like I can’t remember half of them, but oh well since I am technically blogging about books it’s time to finally start.” DUDE HOW DARE YOU CALL ME OUT LIKE THAT I ACTUALLY RELATE TOO MUCH?? see this is why i LOVE YOUR POSTS. they’re masterpieces.


    Liked by 1 person

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