On Naida Irisavie

Earlier this week, Lizeth on Facebook asked a great question about Naida Irisaive.

There are spoilers for Crest in this answer, so if you haven’t read book 3 yet, you might not want to read this.

You’ve been warned  🙂


Her question (paraphrased): From the glimpses we catch in Ondine and in Kendra’s memories, we see the difficult history between the two. How did Naida feel as she pushed her daughter so hard throughout the years?

My answer:

Naida’s priority with Kendra can be summed up in one word: survival. Her sole maternal focus revolved around keeping her daughter alive and teaching her to survive, even without her.

The desire to achieve that result far outweighed any other consideration. This is a mother who taught Kendra to punch her own face over and over again until the pain of contact numbed. She watched Kendra be beaten in the park by human boys and later at various tournaments, so her daughter would learn to tolerate pain and get back up.

She pushed her over and over again with seemingly impossible demands. It didn’t matter if Kendra ended up hating her. For Naida, it was okay as long as her daughter survived.

Understanding that kind of mentality means understanding how Naida’s world and experiences have shaped her.

In Billow, Kendra learned that “intent is everything in magic”. In the Ondine Quartet world, magic both determines individual power and fuels character conflict.

Ondines have political and social status because of their Virtues. Those without it (like Chloe and Aubrey), regardless of their Redavi standing, feel powerless, mainly because they don’t know where they fit in or what their purpose is. Often, they are simply treated as bargaining chips in arranged bindings designed to strengthen family power and alliances.

Demillirs, the only elementals without magic, are relegated to physical work (chevaliers). Aside from the Head Chevalier’s presence on the Council, they have no political say and possess the least amount of power in elemental society.

The two demillirs who do have magic (Julian and Jeeves) live as if they are cursed. Both father and son struggle to connect with elemental society because their Virtue immediately casts them outside of it. Jeeves chooses to embrace the establishment, masking himself in suits and ties, clinging to the relative norm and safety of the Governor’s office, subtly influencing policy all while avoiding direct conflict. Julian, of course, chooses to reject the establishment outright.

Kendra’s difficulties with Empath are also directly correlated to the expectations placed on her as sondaleur. Her path toward mastering her magic parallels her way of dealing with the weight of expectations. Balancing and filtering out the energy and voices of many to determine what is important to her is a constant challenge.

An ondine’s latent magic doesn’t emerge until she comes of age because controlling Virtue is the art of mastering self-control. It’s the difference between the impulsivity of youth and the experienced perspective of an adult.

Naida was an extremely powerful Clairvoyant whose struggle to control her magic was greater than anyone else’s, including her daughter’s. What she saw, both in her future and in Kendra’s, was an unimaginable burden, one she internalized and carried throughout the years.

Unlike Kendra (who started at an early age), Naida came to training late in life. In the span of a few short years, she physically transformed herself into a fighter. She willingly locked herself away at Lyondale Hospital because she understood the importance of controlling her Virtue (and not the other way around). And once she gained full mastery over her power, she harnessed it with such precision, she could wield it in a fight to her advantage.

What does this say about her? It meant Naida possessed a tremendous discipline and willpower alongside a large reserve of emotional and mental strength. Time and time again, she demonstrated her ability to do whatever was necessary in achieving her goal.

Naida was born privileged, but fought the expectations of others. Her visions placed her in direct opposition to the status quo. The sheer frustration of knowing what was to come yet being unable to persuade others to listen and change would’ve been immense.

Ultimately, her tragedy was the same as that which befell Cassandra in Greek mythology.

No one believed her.

Openly expressing her ideas and emotions had only resulted in terrible backlash. So she studied her mother, the way the Governor ruled with an iron fist, and realized power required distance. She adopted Rhian’s steely mask and learned to coolly make strategic and tactical decisions with rationale and logic, not with her heart.

She then fell in love with the Head Chevalier because what he did set him apart from everyone else.

He believed in her.

And despite the challenges of her own life, she embraced motherhood. Kendra’s very earliest memories of her mother, revealed by the Armicant, are positive (Crest). Tristan and Daniel have also both mentioned the joy Naida felt in her daughter’s birth (Whirl, Billow).

So what happened?

The death of Ansel, Kendra’s father, changed everything.

In Crest, Kendra’s initial memory during the Original Magic trial is of her father’s corpse. Her mind had literally locked away everything that happened before it as if it never happened because that moment had such a profound impact on her life.

The loss of that love, the loss of the one person who’d stayed by her side, who’d believed in her, irrevocably changed Naida.

Grief and rage consumed her. She channeled her fears over her daughter’s future into an obsessive drive toward a singular goal and shifted her iron discipline and razor-sharp mental focus on to her daughter.

She needed to make Kendra succeed where she could not. She wanted her daughter to be stronger than her, strong enough to not let love or need or vulnerability in.

Strong enough to be believed and not ignored. Strong enough to not feel pain. Strong enough to be the last one standing.

This single-minded purpose and aloneness, Naida’s ultimate legacy, defined Kendra’s life. It’s not until she arrives at Haverleau that she begins to grasp the idea of trusting and working with others. The concept is alien and difficult for her to accept. She continues to struggle with it in every book.

Did Naida love Kendra? Yes. She was willing to give up everything so her daughter would live. Regardless of how their relationship evolved, I don’t think that ever changed.

Did she care more about about ending the war than the needs of her own daughter? Also yes, especially after Ansel’s death. She clung harder to the ideals they’d once held as a way of dealing with her grief.

The manner in which Naida raised Kendra was inevitably affected by her own personal turmoil. She did the best she could. Given the circumstances and the extreme nature of the war, was she justified? Well, that’s something readers will need to decide for themselves.

Love manifests in different ways in the series – through friendship, family, and romance.

Naida’s flawed parental love is something we’ve seen to varying degrees in others: Rhian, Ancelin, Dylan’s parents, Amber’s mother, Patrice LeVeq. And at it’s very worst, in Yahaira.

Did Ancelin and Eleri love Tristan? Then why have him kill his own brother? Did Patrice ever really love Julian? Why did Rhian allow her daughter to leave Haverleau? Why didn’t she intervene when Naida pushed Kendra too far? And what about Yahaira? She’d caused the deaths of so many over the years, using her daughter as an excuse to carry out her own personal vengeance. Yet, the loss of her daughter broke her in a way years of twisted thinking could not.

There are no simple answers to these questions. People screw up and inadvertently hurt those they love. Good people can do awful things, even when their intentions are honorable. People who’ve inflicted horrible pain on others can be capable of redemption in the most surprising and unexpected of ways.

And sometimes, a person is too far gone, drowning in too much fear and anger to change. What remains is a sad ghost, a faded blend of what was and could’ve been.

Naida’s actions have a far-reaching effect. It colors every one of Kendra’s relationships. Her difficulty in trusting others, her tendency to shut others out, her instinctive desire to hide from intimacy and shun vulnerability, her inability to express what she feels…all these are a result of her mother’s four rules, lack of affection, and years of mental and emotional conditioning.

Flipped around, those traits are also what mark Kendra as a survivor. She’s independent, extremely resourceful, doesn’t give a shit what others think, and has a confidence and bravery that allow her to take enormous risks.

And despite what Naida tried to instill in her, Kendra cares. She can’t turn it off, no matter how much she’s tried to over the years.

In Whirl, Nexa pointed out that the strength of Kendra’s Empath saved her from her own upbringing. She said Naida also understood this.

And perhaps she did. Given the strength of her Virtue, it’s highly likely Naida saw her daughter’s future.

Perhaps she knew Kendra would not only survive long enough to become Governor-elect, but also long enough to survive the wounds inflicted by her own limitations.

Kendra won’t ever know the answer. But she wonders about it, the way we all do when someone is unexpectedly taken from us.

In Billow, Kendra’s choice to turn toward her friends rather than away from them, was the first step on to her own path, one very different from her mother’s.

The similarities may be there, but Kendra is not Naida. Just as Julian is not Patrice, Chloe is not Miriam, and Dylan Rosamund is not his parents. Same goes for Ian, Aubrey, Amber, Tristan, and Sian.

This is what makes her our heroine.

The Ondine Quartet series began with a scene between a mother and daughter. The war at the heart of the series is a result of possessive love, the Shadow’s jealousy over Jourdain’s connection to her ondine children.

Kendra’s relationship with Naida is an ever-evolving reflection, appearing in every book as an underlying layer mirroring the sondaleur’s journey.

It is a journey that will continue and resolve in Breaker. 🙂

On Cam and Chloe

I shared this image on my Tumblr last week because it reminded me of Cam and Chloe.


Kendra and Tristan obviously get the most attention. But the other couples in the series also play important roles and not just because they’re Kendra’s friends; it’s also because their individual personalities and the way their relationships develop reveal so much about the dynamics of the elemental world and what’s at stake.

Cam is rough around the edges, a person driven by the need for justice. He’s not Redavi, just an average demillir expected to serve as chevalier. Like so many other elementals, his path is predetermined for him. He doesn’t fear violence and identifies with Kendra’s stubbornness and temperamental nature.

As we’ve seen in previous installments, he’s quick to judge (a trait Kendra has also battled) and his criticism of others has often led to unfair assumptions. He is, in fact, an example of someone who can be a good friend, an all-around good guy, and still be prejudiced, blinded by preconceptions and his own paradigms.

Chloe, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite of Cam. A Redavi and only child of Council members, she grew up coddled and beloved. Like Marcella, her enormous strength lies in her gentleness, in a flexibility that demonstrates a particular kind of resilience.

But her unconditional acceptance of others occasionally backfires because it doesn’t come from selflessness; it stems from a self-protective desire to not rock the boat and keep the peace. She’s abhorred conflict her entire life until the events of Whirl turn her perfect world upside down.

Part of her journey throughout the series is the realization that conflict cannot be avoided. Evil can exist in the place you considered your sanctuary, your home. It can take root in the person you trust and love more than anyone else, a person who’s supposed to love you unconditionally. Chloe can only move forward by learning to embrace her fear of the unknown and fighting for herself and her right to change.

In this image, I saw two people seeking and finding in each other that which they don’t have…like Cam and Chloe.

Just something I’m thinking about as I work on Breaker. 🙂




Behind the Scenes: Whirl

I had so much fun doing one of these for Crest, I decided to go back and do it for the two previous books in the series. Since these posts are for readers who want to know more about the writing process behind each book, there may be mild spoilers.

Proceed with caution. 🙂


Five things about Whirl:

1. I rewrote the beginning of the novel eighteen times. Since I’d plotted out the rest of the series, I knew the first few opening chapters were key in laying out the thematic threads of the series.

Another consideration lay in the challenge of Naida Irisavie. She is an invisible, omnipresent character throughout the Ondine Quartet, someone readers never really see alive and yet her overwhelming spirit is a vital part of every book. I had to find some way of firmly tying her into the narrative right from the start so her presence would always be woven into the fabric of our heroine and her journey.

Because Kendra’s character development is the heart of this story and this series, her complicated and emotionally abusive relationship with her mother would gradually be explored throughout the rest of the books, but I had to reveal enough to establish a backbone of why our protagonist is the way she is.

Easy to say, definitely not so easy to do. 🙂

2. The size and location of the city of Lyondale is loosely based on Bellingham, WA.

I envisioned Haverleau as a small town full of quaint shops and residences surrounded by a lush, verdant landscape. A few months prior to writing the book, I’d spent two weeks in Gijón, Spain and wanted to recreate a beautiful community nestled along the coast that burst with Old World European charm. Haverleau was the result.

The name itself, from the phrase havre de l’eau, came from listening to Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau (Reflections on the water).

3. On character names/terms/magic:

The trickiest aspect of the first book in a series is world-building. Magic operates by a set of rules and limitations are just as important as possibilities. Ondine magic needed to be a natural extension of the world’s cultural history. Therefore, each Virtue was an asset used in their race’s assimilation into human society.

A large group instinctively wants to impose some kind of hierarchical order, even if our rational, logical brain understands it’s not always morally or ethically right. Sometimes it’s through acquired qualities (wealth or job/education), sometimes through physical/external traits (racism, perceived physical strength/power, appearance). Over time, as ondines established themselves on land, it made sense for these distinctly human flaws to also have seeped into their world.

There also existed a more fundamental layer of order based upon magic. Ondines who possessed Virtues (Redavi first-borns) gained greater societal privilege than those who only had elemental magic. The political structure and matriarchal society also gave me freedom to explore thematic threads of power and women’s roles.

I also spent a great deal of time studying etymology to construct terms. The history of langue d’oïl and Old French influenced the construction of selkie names and language. There is a Welsh influence, particularly in some of the selkie names (because of the Norman invasion of Wales), and the selkie language incorporates both Celtic and Latin roots.

4. In initial drafts, Nexa had a pet, a small, hybrid creature I named Laramie. But as Nexa’s quirkiness and backstory fully emerged, I realized the beast sidekick detracted from her eccentricities and decided to eliminate Laramie.

She still has a special place in my heart, though, so I may include her in a future series. 🙂

5. I initially intended Chloe to take on the role Miriam Moreaux ultimately played. But as I worked on the story, two things became clear.

First, Chloe’s friendship and her own character growth were entwined with Kendra’s development. Second, the imperfect reality of being a parent and the individual, human mistakes parents make that affect a child’s future choices are both crucial elements of this series.

The fate of Miriam Moreaux and the continuing consequences experienced by her daughter is a journey mirrored in Kendra, Julian, and other characters. It was a conflict I couldn’t throw aside.

Others in the series:

Behind the Scenes: Billow

Five things about Billow:

1. Ian is briefly introduced in Whirl (he exchanges an email with Kendra in chapter three). I originally planned for him to be a part of the series from the first book. But no matter how I tried to do it, his entrance always felt forced. I finally decided to slightly adjust Billow to accommodate his later return to Kendra’s life.

2. I knew Billow would be a difficult, but very necessary, installment in Kendra’s journey. One of the things that bothers me as a reader is seeing a character thrust into an end-of-the-world situation or a vicious war and get over a traumatic event in two paragraphs (yes, I’ve read this) with little to no after-effect or resulting paradigm shift.

Another pet peeve is when the romantic interest swoops in and magically makes everything okay just because he’s hot and apparently a good kisser. I’ve also seen the heroine’s moment of vulnerability used as a plot device to bring them together as a couple more times than I can count. I’ve often found such unrealistic character reactions in the second book of a YA series, including casual declarations of love that leave me wondering why the author didn’t trust readers to follow his/her protagonist on a deeper journey.

It was important for me to unflinchingly explore Kendra’s character growth as honestly as possible. Before romance, friendships, or relationships of any depth or meaning could truly become a part of her life, she needed to find herself and stand on her own two feet.

Since our heroine is tasked with ending a brutal war, death is obviously an important theme in the series. Whether it be her mother, Ryder, Marcella, or Nick, how Kendra reacts to another character’s loss is a fluid journey that speaks volumes about her evolving self-awareness.

During the period I worked on Billow, I also experienced a deep, personal loss in my family that reminded me yet again of the power of grief and how strongly rage and fear can play a part in dealing with it.

3. The major plot points of each book in the series were planned before I began writing Whirl, including the specifics of Aquidae organization. Many details are modeled after sleeper terrorist cells. The Aquidae kidnapping/trafficking ring was based on the current horrifying state of human trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation.

4. The design of the elemental wing at Lyondale Hospital was influenced by images of creepy underground bunkers (like these).

5. The Trident marketplace was inspired by El Rastro in Madrid, Spain.

Others in the series:

Behind the Scenes: Crest

As promised, I wanted to share a few things that went into the writing of Crest. I’ve tried to avoid any major spoilers. But since this post discusses ideas and characters, there may be a few small ones.

Okay. You’ve been warned. 🙂




Five things from Crest:

  1. A little info on kahliev, the selkie word introduced in the book.

    I’ve lived in six countries across three continents and my main day job takes me to eight or nine countries a year. Since I constantly come into contact with different languages and cultures, my travels have an enormous influence on my work.

    This particular word was inspired by my own personal background. I was born in Japan (my family is still there) and raised in Hawaii (where my mother and brother live). The idea for this term came from two words – aloha (Hawaiian) and kizuna (Japanese).

    hibiscusLike kahliev, these words have multiple meanings based upon context. Aloha is a greeting that can mean both hello and goodbye. It implies a certain generosity of spirit, a feeling you find in the islands. It can also refer to how you treat someone. You show someone aloha when you treat them with love, affection, or compassion.

    Kizuna (絆) is one of my favorite Japanese words. Its basic definition is a bond, but not necessarily a romantic one. The word is often used to describe a shared experience. For example, students from the same graduating class can possess a kizuna. Teammates who survived a range of trials to achieve something have also forged a type of kizuna. And of course, fellow soldiers who fought together on the battlefield absolutely have it. The word means an irreplaceable connection, unique to a particular experience and time, that cannot be substituted by any other.

  2. Myrddin is a nod toward the wizard, Merlin, from the Arthurian legends.

  3. I originally conceived Helene as a child prodigy with an eidetic memory. The great gift of absolute recall would also be her tragic curse. She remembered everything and forgot nothing, including things that needed to be let go of.

    camcorderI scrapped that idea once the artistic nature of the Bessette family emerged. Like her actress mother and painter sister, I wrote Helene to be a character whose understanding of life was mirrored in her choice of art. Not only did it work better with the novel’s overall thematic construction, but I also thought her desperate desire to cling to remembrance gave her greater depth.

  4. Like every book in the series, I immersed myself in French poetry and delved into mythology while writing Crest.

    The Charles Baudelaire poem referenced in the scene with Julian (Chapter 3) is “L’Amour du mensonge” from Fleurs du Mal. I debated between Baudelaire’s “Le Voyage” and Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Brise Marine” for Crest’s epigraph before deciding upon Mallarmé. Both poems are about a voyage, but greatly differ in their approach.

    The Alder Branch bookstore is a reference to the “alder branch” in Aloysius Bertrand’s “Ondine” poem, which is the epigraph of Whirl and part of the inspiration behind the series.

  5. The Armicant was inspired by the French myth of Le Drac. It tells the story of a fearsome shapeshifting sea serpent who kidnapped a woman and took her underwater to raise his son.

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