Books to Read After “If We Were Villains”

Have you just turned the last page of M.L. Rio’s riveting novel ‘If We Were Villains‘ and find yourself missing the captivating world of Shakespearean actors and their intoxicating drama? Don’t fret, we’ve all been there. That post-book emptiness can be tough to shake off, especially after reading a story as enthralling as this one. But here’s the good news – there are many other books out there that share similar themes and tones.

The purpose of this blog post is to guide you towards your next literary adventure. We’ve curated a list of books that capture some aspect of ‘If We Were Villains,’ whether it be the allure of theater and performance, the dark academia vibes, or the complex web of character relationships. Each book recommended here has its unique allure but shares a common thread with ‘If We Were Villains,’ creating a literary landscape that you’re bound to enjoy.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

Common Themes in ‘If We Were Villains’

One of the reasons ‘If We Were Villains’ is so compelling is due to the distinct themes that run through the narrative. These themes not only add depth to the story but also create an immersive atmosphere that sticks with readers long after they’ve finished the book.

Theater and Performance Arts

The central characters in ‘If We Were Villains’ are drama students in an elite arts conservatory, and their life revolves around theatrical performances. This infuses the narrative with dramatic tension, expressive dialogues, and a unique backdrop that sets the stage for the unfolding events. The impact of theater extends beyond their performances, impacting their personal interactions, relationships, and identities, blurring the lines between their roles on stage and their roles in life.

Dark Academia

The setting of ‘If We Were Villains’ is a classic example of the ‘Dark Academia’ aesthetic – a trend that appreciates classical literature, philosophy, and a brooding, gothic ambiance. The mysterious Dellecher Classical Conservatory with its remote, austere environment, rigorous academic expectations, and the underlying atmosphere of suspense, perfectly encapsulates this genre.

Complex Character Relationships and Personal Growth

Interpersonal dynamics play a significant role in ‘If We Were Villains.’ As the seven protagonists navigate their intense relationships, we see their personalities evolve, their bonds get tested, and secrets unveiled. The book does an excellent job of illustrating the grey areas in human relationships, the complexities of friendship, love, rivalry, and betrayal that come to light in times of crisis.

The Intertwining of Life and Art

A key theme of ‘If We Were Villains’ is the intertwining of life and art. The characters, in their immersive involvement with Shakespearean plays, often see their own lives mirroring the tragic arcs of the characters they portray on stage. This brings an added layer of intensity to the narrative, as the boundaries between fiction and reality blur, and life starts imitating art in unexpected ways.

Books Similar in Theme and Tone

Just because you’ve finished ‘If We Were Villains’ doesn’t mean you have to leave its rich thematic landscape behind. Here are some books that echo similar themes and tones.

‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

In ‘The Secret History,’ Donna Tartt presents a gripping narrative about a group of classics students at an elite New England college. Much like ‘If We Were Villains,’ the book explores dark academia and the dangerous path that a tightly-knit group of students tread when they let their academic obsessions get the better of them. The novel delves deep into the psyche of its complex characters, leading to a catastrophic event that changes their lives forever.

‘The Lake of Dead Languages’ by Carol Goodman

‘The Lake of Dead Languages’ is another perfect read for fans of ‘If We Were Villains.’ Set in a girls’ prep school in the Adirondacks, it tells the story of Jane Hudson who returns to her old school as a Latin teacher. The book shares the dark academia aesthetic, the elite academic setting, and the suspenseful undercurrent of ‘If We Were Villains.’ As Jane confronts her past and a new series of threats in the present, you’ll find yourself engrossed in the layers of mystery and emotional depth.

‘Bunny’ by Mona Awad

‘Bunny’ is a darkly funny and strange tale set in an MFA program at an elite university, where a group of girls called “Bunnies” invite an outsider to join their clique. This book captures the essence of intense friendships, academic life, and the bizarre and surreal turns that life can take – elements that readers of ‘If We Were Villains’ will find familiar. It’s a wild ride, blending horror, humor, and satire in a way that’s sure to keep you turning the pages.

Books About Theater and Performance

The theatrical element in ‘If We Were Villains’ is central to its plot and character development. If this aspect fascinated you, here are some books where the world of theater and performance plays a significant role.

‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel

‘Station Eleven’ is a post-apocalyptic novel revolving around a troupe of actors and musicians called the Symphony, who travel around the Great Lakes region, performing Shakespeare plays for the surviving communities. This book does not just place theater at its center but also explores themes of survival, human connection, and the enduring power of art in the face of devastation. The importance of art in shaping society and providing hope mirrors the profound influence of theater in ‘If We Were Villains.’

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ by Gaston Leroux

A timeless classic, ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ revolves around the Paris Opera House haunted by a phantom who terrorizes the occupants. The narrative’s rich descriptions of the theater’s backstage life and performances offer a deep dive into the world of opera, comparable to the theater-centric narrative of ‘If We Were Villains.’ Moreover, the intertwined themes of love, obsession, and the fine line between genius and madness echo the intense dynamics in M.L. Rio’s book.

Dark Academia Novels

The dark academia aesthetic of ‘If We Were Villains’ is a significant part of its appeal. If you’re drawn to the blend of intellectualism, mystery, and the somewhat morbid charm of academia, here are some novels that embody this aesthetic.

‘The Lessons’ by Naomi Alderman

Set in the hallowed halls of Oxford University, ‘The Lessons’ explores the lives of a group of friends bound by their shared experiences and secrets. The book captures the charm and intensity of university life, dealing with complex relationships, academic aspirations, and the darker side of ambition. The brooding, gothic ambiance and the intellectual atmosphere make this a perfect dark academia read.

‘A Deadly Education’ by Naomi Novik

‘A Deadly Education’ brings together dark academia and fantasy in a thrilling narrative set in the Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted. Students here face mortal peril as they navigate their way through academic challenges, supernatural threats, and complex interpersonal dynamics. This book masterfully captures the dark academia aesthetic while adding a unique twist with its magical elements, making it a fascinating read for fans of ‘If We Were Villains.’

Books about Complex Relationships and Personal Growth

A significant part of ‘If We Were Villains’ is dedicated to unraveling the intricate relationships between its characters and their personal journeys. If you enjoyed this aspect of the book, here are a couple of other books that delve into complex relationships and personal growth.

‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney

‘Normal People’ is a profound exploration of the complex relationship between two individuals, Connell and Marianne, who come from different social backgrounds. Sally Rooney weaves a tale that is both intimate and expansive, delving into themes of love, friendship, social class, and the impact of individual growth on relationships. The nuanced portrayal of the protagonists’ bond resonates with the intricate dynamics seen in ‘If We Were Villains.’

‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara

‘A Little Life’ is a deeply moving novel that explores the lives of four college friends navigating adulthood in New York City. This book stands out for its intense exploration of friendship, trauma, love, and personal growth. The complexities of the characters’ relationships, their personal struggles, and their enduring bonds echo the depth of character relationships in ‘If We Were Villains.’

Additional Recommendations

For those seeking even more similar reads, here’s an expanded list of additional books that echo the themes of ‘If We Were Villains.’

‘Ninth House’ by Leigh Bardugo

‘Ninth House’ is a captivating dark academia novel set within the secret societies of Yale University. With elements of the supernatural and a haunting atmosphere, it’s a perfect follow-up for fans of ‘If We Were Villains’ who enjoy thrilling narratives within academic settings.

‘Special Topics in Calamity Physics’ by Marisha Pessl

This novel is a complex, dark academia mystery revolving around a group of eccentric high school students and their charismatic teacher. Its intricate plotting and examination of academia make it a great option for fans of ‘If We Were Villains.’

‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde

A classic that explores the themes of art, beauty, morality, and decadence. Wilde’s gothic narrative and philosophical musings echo the introspective nature and aesthetic of ‘If We Were Villains.’

‘The Likeness’ by Tana French

A gripping novel about an undercover detective infiltrating a close-knit group of university friends. The dark academia elements, combined with the exploration of intricate group dynamics, make this a great choice for ‘If We Were Villains’ enthusiasts.

‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

Set in an isolated boarding school with a dark secret, this novel explores complex friendships and the loss of innocence. Its blend of speculative fiction and dark academia makes it a compelling read for fans of ‘If We Were Villains.’

‘Vicious’ by V.E. Schwab

This book tells the story of two brilliant college roommates whose shared ambition leads to a dangerous experiment, turning them into enemies. The exploration of morality, ambition, and power resonates with the themes in ‘If We Were Villains.’

‘Brideshead Revisited’ by Evelyn Waugh

A classic novel set in the 1920s, it captures the golden era of Oxford University and the complex relationships between a group of friends. Its exploration of love, friendship, and faith within a dark academia setting will appeal to ‘If We Were Villains’ readers.

‘The Bellwether Revivals’ by Benjamin Wood

This book revolves around a group of Cambridge students, a complex love story, and an impending tragedy. Its dark academia aesthetics, focus on music, and exploration of obsession make it a compelling read for ‘If We Were Villains’ fans.

‘The Starless Sea’ by Erin Morgenstern

A love letter to storytelling, this book is filled with tales that intertwine in mysterious ways. Its lush, atmospheric prose and the theme of stories shaping our lives echo the artistic soul of ‘If We Were Villains.’

‘The Truants’ by Kate Weinberg

Set in a university, this novel tells the story of a charismatic professor, her student, and a complex love triangle. Its exploration of love, obsession, and deceit within a dark academia setting aligns it with the themes of ‘If We Were Villains.’


These books are a testament to the idea that the themes of ‘If We Were Villains’ — theater and performance, dark academia, and complex character relationships — are not confined to its pages. Each of these books provides a unique exploration of these themes, giving you a wide variety of reading options that resonate with the magic of M.L. Rio’s work.

Whether you’re intrigued by the aesthetic of dark academia, fascinated by the world of theater, or engrossed in the exploration of complex character relationships and personal growth, there’s something in this list for you.

Hopefully, this list of books has piqued your interest and will fill the void left after finishing ‘If We Were Villains.’ Remember, the end of one book is just the beginning of another adventure.

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R.J. Adams

My first job was at Barnes & Noble, so books and reading have been a big part of my life for as long as I could remember. My Kindle is jam-packed with books I likely will never get around to reading and my To Be Read pile is even longer!

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