Haunting Emma trilogy by Lee Nichols

Deception (2010), Betrayal (2011), Surrender (2011)

Recommended by: bookshelves of doom


When 17-year-old Emma’s parents do not return from an international trip, a former friend of her brother’s arrives to act as her guardian. He takes Emma to his family’s home in Massachusetts and she begins to attend the private school nearby. Although Emma has never been there before, she can’t deny that the house and school seem strangely familiar. In addition, Emma learns that she can see ghosts, and has certain ghost-keeping abilities.

Lee Nichols’ Haunting Emma trilogy has a lot of the tropes of its genre: love triangle, mean girls, main character’s powers are the most special, etc. The outcome of the love triangle is a foregone conclusion – which suitor is the most forbidden and mysterious? Bingo. Cue much romantic angst in second and third books, that strangely glosses over a highly unethical action taken by the chosen love interest.

Despite the tropes, I did enjoy the first book. I generally like stories where people can interact with ghosts – there is a built-in poignancy about that scenario and it appeals to me. And Emma gets to do a lot of cool ghost-related things in the first book as she explores her newly-realized powers. There was one power in particular involving a ring that was my favorite. And I did like that in the second book, a character who dies in the first book comes back as a ghost and I appreciated the attention paid to the emotional fallout from that transition.

That said, the second and third books were overall disappointing. There was no satisfying build to the climactic confrontation with the main villain. It turns out that the villain’s motivations stem from past events involving Emma’s family but since we hardly get to know Emma’s family, this connection has no real heft to it. The story about Emma’s powerful ancestor and that ancestor’s lover had more sense of real peril than the trilogy’s various battles with the villain.

The storyline of the second and third books gets needlessly and repetitively mired in the friendship/romance entanglements of Emma and her friends. On the one hand, yay for Emma having female friends who are interesting in their own right. I know that’s not a given with YA fiction. But Emma’s constant wondering “is this guy interested in this girl or in this other girl” only seemed to distract from the real stakes of the story.

And though the trilogy was mostly free from making Emma an excepto-girl who is “not like all the other girls”, it still slipped in the third book: “he understood I just wanted to be alone. It was more of a guy reaction to a problem. I’d noticed girls often liked to cry and relive every moment of distress with a friend. I wasn’t that kind of girl.” I probably groaned aloud when I read that. Again, most of the trilogy was free of that kind of statement, but still that sentence represents how I felt like the trilogy became more generic as it went along.

I picked up these books for the R.I.P. Challenge because of the ghosts, and I did like the ghosts, but reading this trilogy also reminds me why I generally steer away from YA fantasy.


Excerpts from others’ reviews:

bookshelves of doom – “In brief: YAY, FUN. Emma was likable and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny” (from review of the first book)

Lauren’s Crammed Bookshelf – “I’ve loved seeing her writing grow as the series progressed, and just like Surrender was the best of the series plot and character wise it was just the same with the writing.”



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5 responses to “Haunting Emma trilogy by Lee Nichols

  1. That is too bad this didn’t work for you. I probably would have not read the whole trilogy if it wasn’t working. So, good on you for sticking with it. 🙂

    • Yeah, I think the only reason I read all three is that I had the whole trilogy borrowed from my library on my Kindle. So I liked the first book well enough to go right on to the second. I had problems with the second, but sometimes the second book’s the weird one in a trilogy, so I thought it might get better in the third book. End game and all that. If the second and third books hadn’t been readily available, I probably would never have got around to them. Also, these were really quick and easy reads.

  2. Hahahahaha, honestly, it sounds like this trilogy should be why you steer away from BAD YA fantasy. But maybe I’m saying that because I’ve just finished up a really excellent YA novel (the first in a series of at least two, maybe three?) and am feeling very fond of the whole age group. :p

    (It was Six of Crows. HEISTING.)

    • The cumulative effect of being underwhelmed by the Divergent/City of Bones/Beautiful Creatures type books made me think I’m not the general audience for that genre. I think the clincher that made me think I didn’t get along with YA fantasy/dystopia is that I didn’t love the Chaos Walking trilogy. Everyone loves the Chaos Walking trilogy! But it is true that there is some YA fantasy I have liked: Un Lun Dun by Mieville, Laini Taylor’s stuff that I’ve read. I enjoyed Hunger Games back in the day (not sure how it would hold up on a re-read though).

      I’ve had better luck with YA realistic fiction lately. I haven’t given up on the YA fantasy genre, but maybe I should aim for those books that have been super-vetted, like the Raven Cycle series.

      • Hopefully you enjoy the next ones you try more than these (at least the last two, as the first sounds like it was good for you). I’m sure you’ll find others that do fit, and I’m intrigued by the idea that the Laini Taylors have worked for you; I’ve been unsure, but some of the others you’ve mentioned liking/not-so-much-liking align with my taste as well.

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