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In If We Were Villains, life imitates art and the consequences are tragic. This If We Were Villains review plunges you into the depths of Shakespearean characters and the (fictional) players who play them. Here, we’ll uncover the layers of this brilliantly crafted novel, including its age rating, pros, cons, and whether it’s worth reading. You’ll find yourself eager to discover all the dark secrets of this popular novel below.

if we were villains book with julius caesar book in front of couch.

Age Rating

If We Were Villains is best for adults aged 18 and over. It includes sexual content and other thematic content, including violence, addiction, discrimination, and death, that is best for adults to consume.

If We Were Villains Review (Without Spoilers)

If We Were Villains is a university-set novel about seven Shakespearean theater students in 1997. When one of them dies, the circumstances of his death come into question and, ultimately, another one of them, Oliver, is imprisoned for his murder. Ten years later, upon Oliver’s prison release, he agrees to tell the retiring detective, who never believed he was guilty, the truth about what happened.

If you need to, check out a full summary of If We Were Villains and/or guide to the If We Were Villains characters first.

The genre of dark academia mixed with Shakespearean players makes for a truly perfect blend. Still, If We Were Villains was an extremely daring and ambitious undertaking, especially for Rio’s debut novel.

Did it deliver? Ultimately, yes, very much so.

If We Were Villains was one of Bustle’s Best Thriller Novels of the Year in 2018, and Kirkus’s starred review reported that “[t]his novel about obsession at the conservatory will thoroughly obsess you.”

But, it wasn’t on my radar until years later, when my best friend from grade school, a fellow reader, reached out and implored me to read it. Since we often have similar reading tastes and enjoy literary fiction like this, I gladly took her recommendation and dove in.

Naturally, she was right, and I have a lot to tell you about If We Were Villains, whether you’ve read it or not.

If We Were Villains truly captured the extreme emotions, as well as the monumental actions they can cause over the course of five tragic acts, in the lives of both Shakespeare’s and Rio’s characters.

This passion is exactly what draws me to Shakespeare. His tragedies never fail to take emotions and actions and draw them out further than you think possible to reach the most shocking and devastating conclusions.

So, a parallel storyline about students immersed in his works beyond any sense of reality totally worked for me. In fact, it’s one of those storylines that makes you think, “Why didn’t anyone write this sooner?”

Do you need to have read Shakespeare to understand If We Were Villains?

If you’re wondering whether you need to “know” Shakespeare before reading If We Were Villains, the answer is, no, it is not required. Will it assist you? Absolutely. But, generally knowing that Shakespeare writes epic tragedies and also not getting hung up on all of his characters referenced should be enough to guide you through.



  • Well-plotted
  • Well-executed
  • Poignant Shakespearean references
  • Unputdownable
  • Suspenseful
  • Thematic
  • Plot twists
  • Memorable characters

As for the pros, I found If We Were Villains to be well-plotted and well-executed with poignant references to Shakespeare, as well as a compulsively readable mystery with so much suspense and intrigue that you can’t put it down.

It also draws upon themes from dark academia and coming-of-age novels really well for those who like the “loss of innocence” narrative in a darker context. Lastly, the ending comes with a few surprising plot twists, and the characters feel like they will remain memorable to me over time.

What more can you ask for?! It’s one of those rare books you stay up late at night just to finish. (I did!)



  • Hard to learn the many characters
  • Richard felt one-dimensional
  • You need to read between the lines
  • Relationships without factual support

As for the cons, as mentioned earlier, it was difficult to learn the characters until I took notes on them. I also found Richard’s character to be too one-dimensional.

Lastly, I also found myself needing to read between the lines to connect the dots a lot, particularly in how the characters related to each other (without giving away). Sometimes, their relations with each other didn’t seem to have enough facts to support them.

Final Verdict

My rating: four out of five stars

Overall, If We Were Villains made for a deeply satisfying Fall mystery reading experience. It’s worth reading if you like thrilling mysteries, dark academia and/or Shakespearean tragedies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth reading If We Were Villains?

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is a fan-favorite novel that’s worth reading if you like thrilling mysteries, dark academia and/or Shakespearean tragedies.

What is the point of If We Were Villains?

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio is whether the main character, Oliver, was falsely imprisoned for murder ten years earlier. Upon Oliver’s release from prison, he agrees to tell the true story about whether the death was a murder and, if so, who committed it and why.

Is If We Were Villains appropriate for 13 year olds?

Is there romance in If We Were Villains?

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio contains some sexual content, but it is not a “spicy” book in the general sense of the word. It is a novel driven by mystery, not romance.


This If We Were Villains review detailed the pros and cons of a superbly executed coming-of-age novel that masterfully intertwines Shakespearean tragedies with a modern Fall-themed mystery, giving readers a haunting tale of passion in which they can indulge.

Share your thoughts on this discussion-worthy novel in the comments below.

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