While walking around the bookshop, the cover of “If We Were Villains” seemed very interesting, it was so simple, but yet so powerful, that made me want to read the synopsis. It captivated me from the moment I read that the action would be taking place at a Dellecher Classical Conservatory, an art school and that the main characters were all studying theatre, namely Shakespeare.

The author went beyond and focused also on moral aspects, as well as people’s behaviour, combined with a lot of Shakespeare’s quotes.

The characters

The story is told by Oliver Marks, one of the students from Dellecher. Oliver tells his story to Colborne, a detective, after 10 years in jail after he was convicted as the murderer of one of his best friends. Oliver is described as an average boy, naïve, loyal, always getting the secondary roles in the plays presented at the end of the year, or the Halloween special.

Oliver is in his last year of studying, having always been by the side of his six friends, James, Filippa, Wren, Richard, Meredith and Alexander. James is described as Oliver’s best friend and seems like they are the only ones sharing a room. Wren is Richard’s cousin and Meredith has some kind of love relationship with Richard. Filippa, often called Pip, starts as a very low-key character, gaining importance during the narrative, and is a great Oliver supporter. Alexander is a gay boy, very close to James and Oliver, and although very stereotypical, is a character of major importance, given the end of the story.

It is easy to be submerged in the characters’ world, as each of them is crafted with specific details that will gradually make more sense during the story. Each of them resembles a certain type of Shakespeare’s model of characters, however with a modern touch, as this book mentions alcohol and drugs quite a lot, during the parties hosted in the castle of Dellecher.

The narrative

The book is divided into five acts, which are separated by scenes, just like a dramatic play.

The prologue tells the story of the present, from Oliver’s perspective, while the scenes are like flashbacks of what happened before and after the moment when all the tables are turned, and the story changed.

Besides the main story being focused on flashbacks, all details are described, from the emotions to the places where the action is taking place, and of course with a lot of Shakespeare. The reader will travel along the downfall of Oliver and his group of friends after the first tragedy of the story.

As the group is studying Shakespeare, they already know some quotes from the author’s works. It is common for them to have full conversations based on only Shakespeare’s quotes; however, they all make sense at the end. To understand the story, it is important to pay attention to all the details, M. L. Rio foreshadowed the actions of all characters throughout the story, especially with Shakespeare’s help.

The morality

I would say that “If We Were Villains” could lead to great debates, as moral issues are worked along the narrative, especially from Act III until the end, where the group has to make a decision together.

Colborne, the detective, must have understood that the group was struggling with inner questions and challenges that led him to feel disturbed and not want to leave the school until finding the real truth, of a case that seemed solved.

Where is the story leading?

When everything seemed normal, given the context of the narrative, M. L. Rio describes the moments where the actors are acting in front of an audience, all explained through Oliver’s point of view. The presentations are key moments in the narrative, as well as its rehearsals. It was in front of the public that Oliver started to understand that the character was already part of the actor, making it difficult to distinguish who was who.

The story starts to have a new path when for the first time, some of the students are playing different roles than they are used to, creating conflicts between the group and, most importantly, inner conflicts within the characters.

Is someone in a hurry?

“If We Were Villains” surprised me until the very end, and I paid attention to all the details. However, the end of the book ‘broke’ the narrative that was being constructed along the previous 300 pages of the book.

The point where all the questions would be answered seemed rushed. The characters, namely Oliver, started to take actions that, according to what I read before, would never happen. It seemed like M. L. Rio wanted to reach the end of the book as fast as possible, creating something similar to a void in the action. I am sure that the reader knew that an end would have to come, but, in my opinion, it was unfair how that great finale came.

What began as a great story, evolving in its right time, became like a highway, in writing terms. The action escalated so quickly that at a certain point, it was confusing for me to read, but, as Oliver says, “you can justify anything if you do it poetically enough.” And “If We Were Villains” was poetic enough for me to enjoy the story and suggest everyone to read it.

Final considerations

The first book from M. L. Rio is a must-read for everyone, especially those who admire Shakespeare’s work. It is noticeable that an intense investigation and study of William Shakespeare’s plays was carried out. Only someone with greater knowledge of the author’s work would write a book like “As If We Were Villains”. If I had to rate the book, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars, due to the apparent rush to get to the end.


Deeply in love with music and with a guilty pleasure in criminal cases, Bruno G. Santos decided to study Journalism and Communication, hoping to combine both passions into writing. The journalist is also a passionate traveller who likes to write about other cultures and discover the various hidden gems from Portugal and the world. Press card: 8463. 

Bruno G. Santos