Genres: mystery; contemporary; thriller
Why I read it: Why wouldn’t I want to read it might be simpler. But, I entered and won a giveaway on goodreads for the audiobook, so that’s why I’ve read (listened to, whatever) this so soon.
Who I’d recommend it to: Shakespeare fans, fans of mysteries, people into theater, literally everyone who will hold still long enough for me to gush about this book.
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
What it’s about:
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.
Are you screaming with delighted anticipation yet? I was, and yes, I do mean literally screaming in delight, when I first read the synopsis for the book. I love Shakespeare. I love theater. I honestly should have been a theater kid, but, alas, I ended up in an awful school district that funneled every possible penny into sports and had almost no other clubs and such to join, so it never happened. I did, however, help with the attempt to start a theater club in jr. high, and we thought it would be successful, but not enough of the younger kids were into it, so it fell apart after we moved on.
Back to the book!
First of all, as I said, I listened to this. I had planned to buy a hardback copy (and still plan to do so ASAP, and I’ll probably get the UK edition, too, because damn, that cover), but I lucked out and won the goodreads giveaway for the audiobook. I’m not much of an audiobook listener because my mind tends to wander, and it’s so easy for the narrator to annoy me, but Robert Petkoff did an excellent job, in my opinion. I actually enjoyed his narration so much I checked out Overdrive for other books he’s read, but I wasn’t really into any of them. I’m not sure I would recommend this as an audiobook, though, because there are multiple characters to keep track of and it took me quite a while to keep them all straight in my head while listening. Petkoff did different voices for each, which would normally irritate me because it usually sounds so silly, but I think he pulled it off nicely.
The. Freaking. STORY. Holy crap, this book is my life right now and has left me haunted by The Bard. I tend to quote Shakespeare a lot anyway, but it got a little out of hand while I was reading this, and I woke myself up shouting (why I was shouting, I’m not sure) “Mischief, thou art afoot!” one morning after listening to this right before bed. I also once fell off my chair at a particularly intense part, because a storm came suddenly and startled me. I’ve been finding Shakespeare everywhere since I started this book, which isn’t too unusual because, like I said, I love the Bard, but it’s escalated and I’m convinced this book is the cause. (Yes, I am kind of kidding about that.) I don’t think I’ve stopped thinking about this book for more than a few minutes since I started it, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up re-reading it at least once this year, after I buy a hardcover copy. I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself re-reading it more than once this year, though. I just freaking love it.
I can’t say that I saw the end of this one coming, like I usually do with mysteries. Oliver is the main character and the story alternates between his memories and the present day, and I never once guessed this one particular big thing that’s revealed toward the end. I kind of guessed part of what happened, but not the whole thing. It floored me and I had to pause the book, screech into a pillow, walk around and pour myself a drink, then gulp down most of it, before I was ready to hear the rest of the story. I then repeated the screeching, walking, and drinking at the very end. I desperately want more, but I’m glad the book ended where it did. It’s an open ending, which I’m not always a fan of, but I think it was done so well in this case. (It isn’t a true cliffhanger, if you’re opposed to those as I am. There are just any number of possibilities for what happens next.)
The friendships, the intricacies of the relationships, the secrecy, the lies, the jealousy, the betrayals, the loyalty, the drama, the comedy, the tragedy, the—. Ugh. I really have no words for describing just how well done this entire novel is. I’m not sure I found a single fault in it, and I think my husband is ready to buy a copy to stuff in my mouth to shut me up about it 😛
Rio’s writing was absolutely stunning, and this book, her debut, has landed her on my “auto-buy” list of authors. That’s a very, very short list (there are like two other authors on it, maybe three). If I didn’t know this was a debut, I would have never guessed it. Her ability to weave so many threads of story together, conceal things so masterfully, and transport the reader to this little world she’s created is breathtaking. This book is quite possibly going to be my favorite from 2017. I feel oddly guilty saying that because I’ve also read the last two Shades of Magic books this year, and I freaking love V.E. Schwab, but If We Were Villains is at least tied for first place. It’s that good.
Every single character that had more than a passing mention was so fleshed out and real. These people didn’t feel like mere characters in a book. It was like Rio plucked living people out of the world and found a way to bind them in ink. I actually forgot a few times that this was fiction. It reached a point for me that I kept expecting to look up and find myself surrounded by them, and I feel like I know each of them now.
I would give this book all the stars, all the awards, and I can not wait to get a non-audio copy to re-read. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be one of those books that has about a million sticky flags marking every other line because it’s brilliant. I absolutely recommend it.
While it isn’t really related to the book, I want to take a moment to babble about my absolute ignorance. I have followed Rio on social media for a few years (ok, so I briefly kind of stalked her blog because she’s awesome), and I knew she was writing a book, but I didn’t actually know this was her book until about a chapter in and I found myself thinking that it sounded an awful lot like something she would write. After some googling failed me, I went to her tumblr and found out that it was in fact her book I was listening to. I’m still not sure how I missed that info, but I did, and I’m actually kind of glad I did because I went into reading this with no preconceived notions about it, other than my feelings about the synopsis.
Have you read it yet, or are you planning to? I’d love to hear your thoughts!