• The Meredith Herald Staff

In Her Debut Novel, M.L. Rio Sparkles – Darkly


- By Emily Chilton, Co-Editor-in-Chief -


Part campus novel, part thriller, and part coming-of-age story, If We Were Villains is all excellent. The book hit stores in April of this year and has since become a quiet favorite of Shakespeare lovers and book lovers alike. As it begins, Oliver Marks is leaving prison after ten years. The detective who put him there is retiring, and he wants to find out the real story behind his most interesting case while he can. It follows the lives of Oliver, James, Wren, Filippa, Richard, Meredith, and Alexander as they begin their final year as theatre students at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, an unconventional college as engaging as it is weird. While they learn lines and debate themes, they struggle with the roles they play on and off stage, a struggle that results in a tragedy none of them prepared a monologue for.


Rio’s prose is witty and gripping, with descriptions and dialogue that are equally well-written. All the characters, from the narrator Oliver to those as secondary as Dean Holinshed, come to vivid life on the page. The Bard is a constant presence, seeming almost like another character in the book, hovering in the background and influencing the way the actors and the reader think. Conversations are sprinkled with well-placed and often obscure lines, and the plays featured in the story intertwine with the characters’ lives in intriguing and unexpected ways. Beyond gathering its own fans, this book is likely to convince readers to return to Shakespeare or give him another chance.


Pick up a copy on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or if you want to support small business, at Quail Ridge Books (in the Mystery section). Happy reading!

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