Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade before.
As a young actor at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character. But when the teachers change the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the play spills dangerously over into life.
When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless…
I was delighted to be given the opportunity to take part in a blog tour for this book! I really cannot thank the publishers enough for sending me an ARC of this and providing me with all of the materials! Make sure to check out the other bloggers taking part in the image above!
A huge thank you to Titan Books for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!
I cannot express enough how much I loved this book. The writing, the story, the characters… it was just incredible. Admittedly, I was bit hesitant to start it because of how much Shakespeare is involved in this book. I have never been a fan of Shakespeare but this book just sounded too interesting to pass up and I’m so glad I decided to read it!
The book is split between the past and the present. It begins with Oliver being released from prison after serving ten years for murder. Detective Colborne, who put him in prison, greets him upon his release. Since he is retiring he wants to know the truth of what happened a decade before. What I liked about this book is that it has Acts instead of chapters. So it has Act I, Act II, etc. At the beginning of each Act is a prologue with Oliver and Colborne talking and as Oliver delves into the past, it follows through with Scene 1, Scene 2, etc. It has a prominent Shakespearian theme throughout and having Acts instead of chapters only strengthens that theme.
I found Oliver to be a really likeable and relatable main character. He believes he is less talented than his friends and sometimes feels overlooked. Quite a few of them have really strong personalities and that is further reflected in the characters they play – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – as mentioned in the synopsis. Oliver feels he doesn’t really fit in with any character and whilst his friends get the same types of characters over and over again, he feels overshadowed and continually gets stuck with the secondary characters who are less important. I definitely sympathised with him and I was glad when he started playing more noticeable characters and his talent for acting came across more strongly.
I liked all of the other characters too and found myself becoming attached to them as I got further into the story. One character in particular that I liked was James. I loved the friendship between him and Oliver and he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. He and Oliver were definitely my favourite characters. I liked all of the girls too, they came across as having a fiery passion and I loved seeing them all acting together.
In terms of pacing, it wasn’t that fast paced but you could see how much attention and detail had gone into the plot and the characters. It was richly detailed and the setting was superb. The author sets a very Gothic setting because they live in a castle and the surrounding grounds include woods and a lake. I can’t help but think if her inspiration for the castle was due to her staying in Hamlet’s Castle at Elsinore. She went into a lot of detail when describing the castle and it was easy for me to form a clear image of the castle and the grounds in my mind from her descriptions. Her writing was very impressive and even though it wasn’t fast paced, I was still hooked on the story and it was definitely a page-turner.
One of the central points of this book, like many of Shakespeare’s plays, is the theme of jealously and rivalry between certain characters. The group of seven friends in their fourth year at an elite arts conservatory play the same characters – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – but a sudden change in casting causes a rivalry and a deadly shift in their friendship. You see cracks start to form and the atmosphere becomes more tense. It felt like a ticking time bomb in every scene when they were all together and there was a lot of nail-biting scenes just waiting for that bomb to explode.
I certainly got a shock halfway through the book when one of the seven friends turns up dead and this was because I was expecting it to be someone else. I’d guessed which characters out of the seven would be involved and at the central point but I completely got it wrong on who would die. It was also quite shocking because M.L. Rio goes into a lot of detail and her writing was very vivid. It was very powerful how she described that particular scene and it almost felt like I was there looking down at the body. That’s how richly detailed it was. It was very chilling and left me speechless.
One of my favourite twists in this book was Detective Colborne pointing out that they were all actors and there was no way of knowing if they were telling the truth or not. They could be lying to his face and he’d have no way of knowing because, well, they are actors and could be wearing a mask thereby concealing their true feelings. But everyone has a breaking point and it was interesting watching the aftermath of that character’s death and how it affected each and every one of the remaining friends. I couldn’t bear to put the book down because I was desperate to reach the ending. It was an explosive ending for me and I loved every second of it.
I applaud M.L. Rio for taking such a leap and writing this intense crime thriller. It’s very different to other crime thriller novels I have read and I am interested to see what other books she comes out with in the future. I would highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in crime thrillers and it’s definitely one of my favourite reads of 2017!
About the Author
M.L. Rio was born in Miami, and has just completed her MA in Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London. In 2016 she won a contest to stay in Hamlet’s Castle at Elsinore for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, where she was the first person to sleep in the castle in over 100 years. If We Were Villains is her first novel.