If We Were Villains – M.L.Rio

If We Were Villains is undoubtedly one of my favorite books ever.

Set in 1997 at the campus of a university focused of arts & humanities, the seven fourth years of the theatre course are on the brink of experiencing much more drama than they’d ever studied for. Ten years later, Oliver Marks has just serverd ten years in jail, for a murder he may or may not have committed. When he is released he begins telling Detective Colborne, now about to retire, what really happened all these years ago.

The time: September 1997, my fourth and final year at Dellecher Classical Conservatory. The place: Broadwater, Illinois, a small town of almost no consequence. It had been a warm autumn so far. Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us, though we saw no farther than the books in front of our faces. We were always surrounded by books and words and poetry, all the fierce passions of the world bound in leather and vellum.

I have not before this book read any book that was indeed canonically a dark academia novel. I do not consider either Vicious or Truly Devious to be as such, because Vicious isn’t focus on this academic enviroment and much more focused on the sci-fi, and Truly Devious… Well it could be a baby dark academica, since they are still in high school and are pretty young. My point is that the major themes that make up a dark academica novel, university setting, the intense athmospheric descriptions, focuses on majors involving arts & humanities, and somewhat substance abuse are not found entirely on these previous novels I mentioned, thus so If We Were Villains was the book that indeed introduced me to the sub-genre of the dark academia, and also the one novel who started my new found obsession with it. New pinterest board hell yes.

Below was the motto: Per aspera ad astra. I’d heard a variety of translations, but the one I liked best was Through the thorns, to the stars.

The seven people group composed by, Oliver, James, Philipa, Meredith, Wren, Alexander and Richard are not only seniors in the theatre course, but also they study Shakespeare, and Shakespeare only. And yes, presumptuous as it is they do talk in Shakespeare quotes. I cannot judge this because I myself talk in book and movie quotes all the time, so I do understand the appeal. The seven are beggining their last year and also the year where the actors finally get to play major roles in the drama plays written by the Bard. The whole ambience of the university just made me wish so badly that I studied there, I mean where can I apply? 

I am particularly attached to book where I find so many favorite quotes. There’s nothing wrong if there aren’t that many I guess, but there’s something special about having a lot of them, even though what’s most important is how deep those quotes hit, and how they resonate in your heart and find a place to live there forever. Some of the quotes even reminded me of my time in university and how carefree and happy we can be before everything comes crumbling down like a castle of cards before our eyes.

I can almost see the seven of us running along the bank through the trees, tearing our clothes off, racing to the water, ready to fall in all together. Third year, the year of the comedy. Light and delightful and distant. Days we can’t have back.

The book is divided into five Acts, and each of them contains a prologue narrated by Oliver right after he left jail and is telling his narrative to the Detective, while the Scenes of each Act occur during the events that happened in 1997. The characters themselves were a delight to me, each one with it’s own unique personality and also so much depth and darkness lurking in each of them. I loved how they got lost in their characters and at the same time some of ther acting resembled things that they were actually living and situations similar to their real lives. They each were so disturbed in their own way, and inevitably end up finding themselves becoming more of enemies than friends and everything is so toxic but so so compelling. I was fascinated by all of it. I was fascinated by their pretentiousness, their morally questionable characters, their aesthetics, the way they were devoted to each other, even when it went too far.

It’s so amazing that the author herself is also an actor and a thespian plus she has a MA in Shakespeare studies, how cool is that? I feel like this book could only have come out from someone like her, and though I do not know her knowing these stuff made me want to be her friend.

Here you will make many firends, and perhaps a few enemies. Do not let the latter prospect frighten you – if you haven’t made any enemies in life, you’ve been living too safely.

The writing is great and I adored the fact that we only get Oliver’s perspective through the whole book because this created so much mystery for the other characters, we can only see them as Oliver saw them, but that doesn’t mean we should trust his judgment. I loved how I was able to realize that even though they were one big family and relied on each other’s friendships to make up for whatever issues they had with their own families, it doesn’t mean that their relationships to each other weren’t problematic or toxic, because they were indeed. And while they were living it, no matter what they would go through, they weren’t able to walk away from it, from this intoxicating dynamic they were all compelled to, this play that they had to keep acting.

I wished this book would never end because of how good it felt to read it. And when the ending finally came, I was feeling completely rapturous and destroyed. I don’t even know how to process the ending, and what an ending. I mean it takes the whole “shakesperean tragedy” to a whole other level, I don’t know how am I recovering from this. Not only this was one of the best books of 2019, but it became one of my lifetime favorites. 

For the portuguese version of this review click here.

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