If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Click here to see my review on Goodreads. ♡

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It had been a while since I had read such a great book, sincerely. There are so many things I love about this book that creating a concise review is an astonishingly hard task for me. First, you must know that this book takes place in a prestigious university focusing on art. The group of friends we follow all through the book is into theatre, but that school has a special view of theatre: it teaches only Shakespeare. The students are in their fourth and last year, which in that school means that they are studying Shakespeare’s tragedy. And what a tragedy…

Shakespeare’s place in the novel

The author of the book has recently finished grad school where she studied, you guessed it… Shakespeare! You can feel the love she has for Shakespeare in her writing as the characters often use Shakespeare’s sentences to address each other. Do not worry, even though I would say that basic knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays would be a bonus, you do not have to have studied his plays in university to understand. The characters do not always talk using Shakespeare’s words and when they do, italics are used to show that these words aren’t theirs. I was so thrilled that I decided to reread a few of Shakespeare’s plays and especially his comedies as apart from As You Like It, I have not read many of them yet.

My favorite Dark Academia book and a double timeline

If you do not know what Dark Academia is, it is basically a « genre », even though unclear, that involves several things. Usually, if you have quite a gothic atmosphere, an interest in the arts, an elite school, a toxic group of friends and murder, you can guess that you are facing Dark Academia. This book is simply the definition of the genre and one of the best ways to be introduced to it.
One of the characters, named Oliver, is just out of jail and so, from the very beginning of the book, you know that someone got murdered, but not whom this is. Oliver tells Colborne what happened ten years ago and thus, we get to learn it as well, wondering all along who has been murdered and then, wondering how it happened, and why it happened that way.

Language in the book

Shakespeare writes so well and his sentences are everywhere but I must say that I also love the writing of the author. A lot of sentences are just so beautiful that I highlighted them and want to read them often. Language is used so poetically, so gracefully and it conveys such strong messages. You will have access to thoughts about Shakespeare, about theatre, about acting and about love, and you will want to write them down and keep a journal just to be able to read them again and again.
The descriptions are all so beautiful and the author has a way to describe things we never take time to describe, such as music, such as light. It reminded me of the famous « All the world’s a stage » speech in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The descriptions of the world surrounding the characters makes it appear as if, even when they are not playing, they are merely actors playing their parts in their own lives. The “mise en abyme” thus created is so addictive and makes us think about our own role in our personal life, which is beautiful and totally the goal of literature in my opinion.

Connecting to characters

As I said, the characters are all part of a toxic group of friends. Usually, Dark Academia involves one character trying to get into a group of friends but here, all the characters seem to get along really well from the beginning, which is surprising. I must say that I got attached to all of the characters, who seemed extremely real to me. All of them have faults and qualities, none of them are neither « good » nor « bad », they just feel extremely human in my opinion. Language, we said, is astonishingly beautiful and helps to convey the characters’ feelings and emotions perfectly. They all seem to evolve on different timelines and they are all caught up in this friendship and in that school that looks more like a cult than an actual school.

To conclude, I would say that this is typically the kind of book you will want to binge read and never finish at the same time as it is both so addictive and too good to close. The gigantic plot twists in the end are just wonderful as well and, for once, I do not feel like the last part of the book was somehow worse than the rest. To me, this is meant to become the kind of book that will be studied in class 50 years from now: full of meaning, philosophy and intertextuality.

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