Review of Island Queen

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley released this week. I channeled my #InnerDorothy on Pub Day, and it was fun.

About the Book

Born into slavery on the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, Doll bought her freedom—and that of her sister and her mother—from her Irish planter father and built a legacy of wealth and power as an entrepreneur, merchant, hotelier, and planter that extended from the marketplaces and sugar plantations of Dominica and Barbados to a glittering luxury hotel in Demerara on the South American continent.

Vanessa Riley’s novel brings Doll to vivid life as she rises above the harsh realities of slavery and colonialism by working the system and leveraging the competing attentions of the men in her life: a restless shipping merchant, Joseph Thomas; a wealthy planter hiding a secret, John Coseveldt Cells; and a roguish naval captain who will later become King William IV of England.

From the bustling port cities of the West Indies to the forbidding drawing rooms of London’s elite, Island Queen is a sweeping epic of an adventurer and a survivor who answered to no one but herself as she rose to power and autonomy against all odds, defying rigid eighteenth-century morality and the oppression of women as well as people of color. It is an unforgettable portrait of a true larger-than-life woman who made her mark on history.

Today I’m sharing my review:

Vanessa Riley has grown a following of faithful readers by introducing us to the overlooked presence of free Black people from all over the diaspora who lived in the regency era. It is much appreciated. As a lover of regency, I have devoured every one of her books. With this story, we meet a real person in historical figure Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. Her achievements and courage are remarkable and arguably unique, not because she as fierce and strong, because many of our people, enslaved or free, fit that description, it was the wealth building that set Dorothy Kirwan Thomas apart. Kirwan, a free woman of color, rose from slavery to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the colonial West Indies, yet she has been relegated to a paragraph in “some” history books. In the books, I grew up with, she had no place, not even behind a comma. This was a story that needed to be told.

Using expertly peppered, but clearly detailed research, Riley delivers an engaging and cleverly devised fictionalized account of Ms. Thomas’ life from childhood through the later years of her life. We meet Doll (Dorothy) as an enslaved child who eventually bought her freedom and that of sister and mother. She suffered many harsh realities and experienced a great deal of pain as she struggled with the politics and power struggles in a male dominated society.

Island Queen took me on a literary journey through beautifully executed, often heart thumping prose that I will not soon forget. I enjoyed the romance, the surprising twist and turns and victorious ending that was Doll’s.

Rest in heaven, fair Island Queen. We know who you are now. We see your power and we thank you for fighting for all the little black girls you cared for. They could have been my ancestors.

Visit Vanessa’s website for more detail, events, and tour information.

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