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?
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. 🙂