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book review

Book Review: The Sentinel’s Dawn by Elena Stewart (2020)

THE SENTINEL'S DAWN by Elena Stewart is an enchanting poetry collection that takes you on a journey to a fantastical world. Check out what Joelene Pynnonen has to say about this indie author title.

“Book Review: The Sentinel’s Dawn”

Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen

Edit, 2023: Read a review of the updated book here.

An enchanting journey to a fantastical world

The Sentinel’s Dawn is a beautifully illustrated collection of poetry by Elena Stewart. It draws on the author’s Scottish heritage, leaning heavily into Celtic mythology and imagery. From the first pages, with its galaxy-inspired imagery, this book promises to whisk readers away on a voyage to the distant lands of long-forgotten lore.

The first poem is a perfect introduction to this volume. Laden with imagery of time, travel, and hope, it launches readers on a gorgeous journey. The pace is brisk, almost like a child’s chant; something that of old might have fought back the dark or welcomed the light anew. As a beginning, it does precisely what the last line promises, launching readers, “Out of the door and through the gate.”

While this first poem is fast and full of energy, there is a lot of range in the rest of the collection. The pacing fluctuates, sometimes even mid-poem, slowing to savor the turn of phrase or speeding us through the landscape. Mood changes drastically from poem to poem. Some are melancholy, some relatable, others playful. Common threads loop this collection together, and the variety between poems ensures that the reading experience stays fresh and exciting.

Any visual medium is difficult to do justice in writing. The feelings and atmosphere evoked by the digital paintings in The Sentinel’s Dawn aren’t describable in words, but, without the graphics, this volume would be a husk of itself, so the attempt must be made. The range Stewart shows in her poetic style, she also lends to her art. The works here are a study of experimentation. There’s confidence in the color palates chosen, and textured contrasts are wielded with abandon. All these visual choices heighten the sense of fantasy already abounding within these pages.

A great deal of thought has been put into the organization and layout of this work. In many illustrated collections, the balance between prose and art is precarious. In The Sentinel’s Dawn, the illustrations and poetry complement and accentuate each other, working together for a wonderful reading experience rather than one unbalancing the other. Stewart also uses the visual to introduce this work and the written to conclude it. In the early pages, a stack of highly stylized cards gives a teaser of the mythical subjects that dominate the work. And as we reach the end, one of the final poems closes with the characters from the cards.

While this volume is stunning, there a few visual details that let it down. The font chosen for the title and author don’t suit the feeling of the rest of the book. Overall, The Sentinel’s Dawn is a lustrous, polished piece in artwork and writing; the titular font is sharp and a little jarring. As this is the first thing that readers will see, they may expect a different experience than the one they get.

The Sentinel’s Dawn is a brilliant exploration of imagination and European mythology. The powerfully written imagery has the feeling of a fairy-tale – name’s writ on a sharpened blade, shadows playing, silver stars aligning. The poetry on its own is lovely, but the beautifully rendered digital paintings lift this collection to another level. Together these things evoke something deep in the human psyche, calling on centuries of mythology to create a nostalgic and enchanted experience.

Category: Poetry

Paperback: 167 pages

ISBN: 979-8640363289

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