Publisher: Flatiron Books
Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.
On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.
Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.
Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.
This was a really smart, sharp book, definitely more mysterious than thrilling and very literary and profound. Oliver is the narrator and it begins when he’s about to be released from prison after serving ten years for an unknown crime. The detective that worked the case has always known that he didn’t know what really happened back in 1997 and Oliver finally tells him the truth about that year. Clearly you know that something terrible and tragic occurred, but you don’t know what exactly did happen, however you know that it involves Oliver and six of his friends and fellow actors from school. This impending sense of doom and unease worked very well alongside the atmosphere and setting of a small college shrouded in mystery.
This was cleverly formatted as parts of it read like a play, it was divided into acts and scenes and there were even sections with dialogue formatted as a play. It was very Shakespearean as the actors at Dellecher only perform his plays, but it wasn’t confusing because Rio mixes it with modern day language and dialogue making it extremely easy to follow.
This was an impressive debut, the seven characters were deeply developed and complex, and while I didn’t particularly like any of them, I liked following their stories. They were pretentious, egotistical and had a flair for the dramatic, they are all actors after all. What begins as a series of arguments and misunderstandings between them, often fueled by said egos and alcohol, turned into something much deeper and more dangerous in the end. This is a dark tale of betrayal, obsession, friendships, rivalries, love, and revenge all based on a group of friends with a very insular existence. Lines are often blurred as it’s difficult for them to distinguish the stark difference between real life and the characters they portray on stage, and this difficulty to differentiate proves to be a fatal error for one of the seven. The twist in the end was unexpected and satisfying leaving me with a feeling of understanding, but also sadness.
Overall rating: 4/5
Thanks to Flatiron Books for my review copy.