Spencer Collins thinks his life at Harvard will be all about basketball and pre-med; hard workouts and grinding work in class. The friends he’s made when he hits the storied ivy-clad campus from a very different life in urban Chicago are a happy bonus. But Spencer is about to be introduced to the most mysterious inner sanctum of the inner sanctum: to his surprise, he’s in the running to be “punched” for one of Harvard’s elite final clubs.
The Delphic Club is known as “the Gas” for its crest of three gas-lit flames, and as Spencer is considered for membership, he’s plunged not only into the secret world of male privilege that the Gas represents, but also into a century-old club mystery. Because at the heart of the Delphic, secured deep inside its guarded mansion club, is another secret society: a shadowy group of powerful men known as The Ancient Nine.
Who are The Ancient Nine? And why is Spencer—along with his best friend Dalton Winthrop—summoned to the deathbed of Dalton’s uncle just as Spencer is being punched for the club? What does the lore about a missing page from one of Harvard’s most historic books mean? And how does it connect to religion, murder, and to the King James Bible, if not to King James himself?
The Ancient Nine is both a coming of age novel and a swiftly plotted story that lets readers into the ultimate of closed worlds with all of its dark historical secrets and unyielding power.
The Ancient Nine by Ian K. Smith, M.D.
Publication Date: September 18, 2018 by St. Martin’s Press
After reading the first few chapters of the book, I took some time to read a bit more about Ian Smith and his reasons behind why he chose to write this particular story. He is very open about the fact that his protagonist, Spenser Collins, is based on his life experiences and personality which actually makes for a stronger character and more realistic viewpoint.
That is one aspect of the novel that I appreciated – Smith does not shy away from providing commentary from a first person POV about the struggles of being a young black man from a working class background surrounded by intensely privileged, rich white classmates. This really helps strengthen the plot and allows readers a view of Harvard that many have not seen firsthand. The highlight of both racial and class issues lends well to the overall storyline.
A bit reminiscent of a Dan Brown novel, the secrets of the male-only elitist clubs at Harvard and the potential of a history connected to murder and violence makes for a fun thriller. The parts of the novel that focused on unravelling this history and thwarting unknown men lurking in the dark were really interesting to me and helped keep the plot moving.
Keeping in mind that I received an ARC to review, I understand that there are aspects of the book that editing might help to really improve prior to publication. However, there were some major issues with the novel that made me uncomfortable as a reader.
The Ancient Nine is fraught with sexism. Understanding that Smith is describing a world dominated by young men who live in a world of privilege, I wasn’t quick to take offense to the descriptions of women as “prizes” for those competing for a spot in the Delphic club nor was I surprised by the way women were viewed by many of these alpha males. My concern came from the way Spenser also begins to describe women as the book progresses.
A book that does a bit too much telling rather than showing to begin with becomes bogged down with descriptions of women’s physical “assets” and I began to feel as if this was a book written by a man for male readers. There was one particular scene midway through the book where Spenser discovers that the “big-breasted brunette” he is making out with is a “man dressed as a woman” and that’s ultimately where I became more detached from the story. While there are times in fiction for these experiences to be heard and respected as part of the bigger picture or just the experience of a narrator, I found much of these experiences in The Ancient Nine to be very problematic and don’t see them being received well by a larger audience.
Overall, I saw great potential for The Ancient Nine to be a fast-paced thriller, but hope that there will be some time to address some of the other issues as well. If more focus was placed on the mystery itself, I believe this is a novel that a lot of people would thoroughly enjoy!