Book Review: If We Were Villains


photo courtesy of Jenna Caruso

M.L. Rio’s debut novel was published in 2017

Jenna Caruso, Staff Writer

As it was at its birth, the work of William Shakespeare continues to be pronounced (if not even more so) among the modern world. Heavily dedicated to his work, author M.L. Rio has earned her M.A. of Shakespearean Studies from King’s College London, and has used her passion to write her debut novel If We Were Villains.

The novel is set at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, an arts school in Illinois, that is made up of artists, philosophers, dancers, and perhaps most importantly, actors. The story is narrated by thirty-two year old Oliver Marks as he reflects back ten years prior to his final year at Dellecher, in which he analyzes the events that had unfolded within those months. Enamored by Shakespeare, Oliver is accompanied by fellow actors James Farrow, Meredith Dardenne, Filippa Kosta, Alexander Voss, Wren Stirling, and Richard Stirling, as their obsession leads them down an unfortunate path. 

If We Were Villains is composed of notable tragedies such as Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar. Rio seamlessly intertwines scenes from Shakespeare’s plays to reflect events, characters, and relationships that are occurring at Dellecher at a specific time. Not only that, but the formatting of the book also imitates a play as it is divided into “acts” and each chapter is a “scene.” 

Although the novel can be heavy at parts, the short chapters allow periods to reflect on the content. That being said, it is a fairly quick read and extremely compelling— especially for those who like dark academia and moral decay. It may be a hesitant read for those who are not particularly fond of Shakespeare, but a wide knowledge of his plays and poetic expertise is most definitely not necessary in order to pick up the book. And despite the difficulty of Shakespeare, Rio proved to portray his words in a thrilling manner that can even make those who hate Shakespeare fond (or at least admirable) of the novel.