Cover Image: Island Queen

Island Queen

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Member Reviews

I thoroughly appreciated the story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. 
The descriptions of the characters and place were rich and detailed. I enjoyed the layers of the characters as they helped us get to know their matriarch, Dorothy. Their stories were charming in their own way. However, I can see how it could cause some confusion. 

This novel is great for someone interested in a slow burn and exploring a part of history that is glossed over, at best, in school. Definitely not a story to be rushed, but savored. 

I ended up listening to the audiobook as well as reading the ebook. Both were lovely.

Thank you NetGalley and William Morrow publishing for eARC.
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I knew nothing about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas but I found her life story fascinating- where she came from being raised by her mother, a slave, on a plantation to buying her own freedom let alone many of her relatives freedom, having 11 children and suffering through postpartum depression, she became a wealthy business woman owning hotels throughout the Caribbean. I can't imagine the obstacles she faced and overcame being a black woman in the 1800's living and being an entrepreneur under British rule. I can just imagine the stories of her legacy that her descendants probably tell to this day.
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Thank you Book Club Girl for the early release read for my honest review. 3 Solid Stars. I'll be honest, this book took me quite a while to finish and I had to press the pause button on reading it a couple of times just to get if finished.  I'm not one to give up as there are only a few books that I've DNF'd, and I was determined to see how this narrative played out...I'm satisfied that I did

I always enjoy a good story that portrays someone's struggle from the life that was handed to them to earning a life of success.  The main character in "Island Queen" is Doll.  The story begins in the 1700s, during Doll's early childhood, as Ireland and England struggled to dominate and colonize the West Indies islands located in the Caribbean.  Even though Doll was born into slavery, she was a natural philanthropist and had a driving desire to free herself and her loved ones from the confines of slavery by making enough money to 'pay their way out'.  The content is difficult. There is rape, and incest and brutality. And several times I had to remind myself that this was a completely different era, and also don't be blinded by all of the good things Doll did, but don't forget the struggles and hurdles she had to overcome to be successful.  Doll had a total of 10 children and she worked diligently to give them freedom, an education, and a foundation that was so much better than what she was born into.  I appreciate the author's portrayal of Doll, but this book was so detailed and I often found myself having to consciously focus.  I also thought that there would be more of a deep dive on how Doll accomplished all that she did, not necessarily her love interests and how she played them against each other and her own children.  

Overall, I feel this book is a little different than what I am accustomed to as being a huge historical fiction fan.  It was hard to really engage with the characters and much of the narrative was drawn out.  I did learn a lot, however, on the brutality of the colonization movement and how slaves were purchased, sold, and could possibly self-fund their freedom in the West Indies.  I've vacationed in these islands several times now, and it definitely sparked my interest on the historical settling and colonization occurred. 

On a side note, I had the privilege to see this author being interviewed in the Book Club Girl end of season party. Vanessa Riley is a charming individual.  I love the cover design, and when the interviewer asked the author about the cover and the meaning behind it, the author said that these beautiful, almost flamboyant hats that women wore in this era, and sometimes currently in church are signs are a 'flag' of freedom.  Enslaved women could not wear hats like this.  The bigger and bolder the hat, the better.  I thought this was a very interesting tidbit of information and it really stuck with me!

Quote from the book: "“Broken glass still sparkles when the light hits it. It might even look like diamonds or chandeliers’ jewels. It’s still ruined and in need of repair. Time will fix it, if you live free.”
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This was a fascinating book roughly based on the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas who was born a slave in the West Indies and though lacking education she was an exceptional business woman.  She freed herself and her children and other close relatives and then hired out her staff as laborers.  She owned a hotel with restaurants.  She knew the value of education and sent her children and others to receive a quality education in England.  The book was well written and enlightening but in some places too wordy.  A good read about a woman from the 1700 to 1800's who was way ahead of her time.
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Vanessa Riley was a guest on the Fresh Fiction Podcast! You can listen to the podcast on the podcast app of your choice, and you can find show notes on PodBean: https://freshfiction.podbean.com/e/fancy-dresses-and-learning-stuff-pop-culture-historicals-interview-with-vanessa-riley/
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Overall I enjoyed this book, but at almost 600 pages, I found it long and found myself not wanting to pick up the book at times. I was trying to think of where I would recommend edits… less children? Kind of kidding, but kind of serious. I know this is based on a real person, I think I just would have appreciated a more tightly edited or succinct version. Dorothy was an amazing person and overcame much and that should be recognized. Thank you to NetGalley and William Morrow for this advanced reader’s eBook.
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Source: NetGalley; ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Island Queen has been one of the most anticipated historical fictions to release this year. Not only is it based on a woman of color, it's a woman of color who went on to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of her time. Dorothy "Dolly" Kirwan was born into slavery but scraped together her savings so she could eventually buy her freedom and that of her rest of her family. Reading about slavery anytime is disturbing and to view it from Dorothy's point of view only made the horrors more personal and terrifying. An immediate thing that struck me about her was how much she seemed to admire her father, a slave owner. He was devoted to Dorothy, her little sister and their mother but that devotion was not enough to free them. Though she was a slave, she and her family seemed to have been protected from the harsh lives the other slaves led. It didn't mean that she was spared from a harsh reality having to contend with her half brother who hated her, poverty and the ever-changing political climate in the Caribbean at the time. After a horrible incident involving her brother, she runs away to a different island where she finds employment with another slaver who has always been kind to her and her family. There she maintains a good rhythm, becomes resourceful, saves her money and yes, finally buys that long-awaited freedom she's dreamed off for so long. Dorothy, who naively thought as a child that her own father would publicly claim her, grew to develop a strong sense of her own agency, now has the world in her sights.

I had never heard of Dorothy "Dolly" Kirwan Thomas before and to read about her was to marvel at what a resilient, ingenious person she was. It's amazing that as a woman of color at that time, she managed to carve out a distinct space for herself. While she couldn't read, she was acclaimed for her business acumen. She understood human nature and relied heavily on her instincts and the few close people in her inner circle she could trust. She also comes across in the novels as forthright, not one to waste time or energy on anything that wasn't fruitful. Her story unfolds through her various relationships to the people in her lives, particularly her romances. I like how the chapters are broken down taking the reader through the pivotal years in her life. 

In her extensive author's notes, Riley explains that she spent 10 years researching anything she could find out about Dorothy. I think she did amazingly at piecing together what she could of Dorothy's exploits. Part of me wishes there was more to tell outside of her love affairs but I think at that period in time, Dorothy had to play the game as it was laid out - in a white man's world. I do believe she fell in love and hard, but that she also knew her own mind, and if they couldn't reciprocate she was self-sufficient enough to take care of herself. Dorothy's driving motive for working as hard as she did was that she didn't want herself or her children to be beholden to anyone. Freedom for people of color wasn't guaranteed so financial security was of utmost importance to her. That was how she could provide for her family and set them up in the world.

I fell in love with the Caribbean when I first went there a few years ago and I appreciate that Island Queen brings awareness to its political and economic history, and that it also looks at colonial history through the eyes of a woman of color. After I finished the novel, I read up on Dorothy some more, wondering what became of her many descendants. Dorothy's story has stayed with me and I still think about what a force she must've been. Since its release, Island Queen been selected as GMA's Buzz Pick, and it's been optioned for a movie by the team behind Bridgerton. I'm so pleased that Dorothy's story is being brought to life and will reach an even wider audience. Island Queen is worth all the buzz!
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This book is a fictional telling of the life of Dorothy (Dolly) Kirwin. She was born a slave on the island of Demerara. Dolly is a beautiful and highly intelligent woman, but I found that I had to suspend disbelief to accept much of what she did and that happened to her. How likely is it that in this time period every wealthy white man who crossed her path would be instantly drawn to her and want to marry/be with her, a dark-skinned former slave? Mind you, no men of her own race show any interest in her, despite her success and wealth. Dolly, despite her lack of education and humble beginnings, seems able to do just about anything. She’s bold, true, but at times she’s audacious and fool hardy, over confident, especially when addressing those of a high rank. She acted more as a free woman than as a slave, even before she was able to purchase her freedom.

Honestly, I felt that this book was a bit of a fantasy, forgetting the etiquette and manners of the time period in which it takes place. The dialog sounds far too modern, too causal. There is no distinction of rank, be it a prince or a slave, they all sound and act the same. For historical sticklers, the language and behavior within the pages of this book don’t always mesh with what actually went on. I’d call this a 21st Century take on an 18th Century story.

The writing is good enough, but I don’t believe that the historical fact was well researched. It treated crossing the ocean from the Caribbean to England as if it was no more than getting onto a commuter train today. Dorothy went back and forth as if she was merely going from one end of an island to another. Not once on these crossings was she caught in a storm or meet privateers. Never did she face bigotry or racism. These crossing were dangerous, but not for Dolly Kirwin.

The one thing I absolutely loved about this book was the was Dorothy’s children were portrayed. They were wonderful. They were what kept me reading this book to the end. As in real life, sad things did happen to many of them, but sad as it was to read about, it seemed reasonable.

The book includes episodes of incest and rape, which, sadly, were likely more true than we’d like to think.

This is an okay book. I think there must be better ones available though.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley. I thank all involved for sharing this book, but their generosity had no effect on this review. All opinions in this review reflect my true and honest reactions to reading this book.
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This book was a page turner from beginning to end. This is a remarkable true story of a slave who never gave up - on her family or her freedom. She fought until the end to save everyone she believed in. I found myself hooked.  Highly recommend.  I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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Remarkable story based on an actual woman, Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. She was definitely a strong woman who was way ahead of her time. She went from slavery to a woman of wealth and power in the Caribbean during Colonial era. I saw an interview with the author and that was so interesting.
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A well written historical fiction focusing on the life of Dorothy Kirwan. Amazing insight into the life and times back in the 1800's and the rise of a woman who was born a slave and the obstacles she overcame. The timeline jumped around a little so you had to concentrate, but really enjoyed the novel from start to finish. Would highly recommend this novel. Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this ARC.
#IslandQueen #NetGalley
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Historical fiction of the life of the most interesting Dorothy KIrwan Thomas.  Her life, her loves, her children and the trials of the times in which she lived.

While the book was long and sometimes hard to follow from one time period to another and back again - it is well worth the time to read.
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Island Queen is a novel based on the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. Thomas was a free woman of color that became one of the richest women in the East Indies. 
It is a well researched book, and Thomas' story should be heard. However,  I found the book to be slow and I  never really connected to Thomas. Thank you #NetGalley for allowing me to give my honest and voluntary opinion of #IslandQueen
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I DNF (did not finish) this book at 40%. I tried so hard to get through it but it wasn't working for me. 

The premise: Based on the true life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, "a free woman of color who rose from slavery to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in the colonial West Indies...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."

I was super excited about this book as I love historical fiction. The structure was confusing to me and the writing was jarring, I could never get into a rhythm of reading. If I was to rate the story at the point I was at, I would give it 2 stars. Eventually I gave up which makes me sad but the writing style and narrative structure did not work for me.
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I received an advanced readers' copy of this book. The historical fiction book tells the life story of Dorothy Kirwan, a woman born into slavery who becomes free and grows to be one of the wealthiest women in the Caribbean and South America. It is based on a true story.

I wanted to love this book, but I only liked it. I found it difficult to keep the stories of all of the characters straight. Dorothy, aka Dolly, had 9 children with different men. They all have roles in the book, but I had trouble remember which child had which back story.

Dorothy lives an incredible life. She has many travels among islands, South American, and trips to Europe. She builds many legitimate businesses despite many women business owners of her time only owning brothels. She struggles as she determines she must own slaves in order to run her businesses, but does all she can to ensure they are one day free.

As I said, I liked the book but found it difficult to read due to the length and the number of characters with different stories branching from Dorothy.
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I wanted to finish this book, but I also did not want it to end.  This was one of the best historicals I've read this year.   Some of what this woman went through in this story was remarkable and shocking.  i loved the way the author wove some of what she learned through research, as well as her own imagination to come up with such a remarkable read.  This was such a remarkable page turner that I did not want to end nor put down.  Great job done by the author.
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Island Queen by Vanessa Riley was an amazing read. I featured it as book of the day, included it in the weekly and monthly roundups of new releases on my blog and social media platforms and included it in a blog post roundup of black historical fiction.
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A fascinating story which for some reason I didn't realize was based on a real person until I'd finished. I could have used a family tree though! So many characters, many of whom weren't fully fleshed out. But then it would have been an even longer book. I did enjoy it.
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Book review: 'Island Queen' an epic rags-to-riches tale
By ASHLEY RIGGLESON FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR Jul 10, 2021

I am always on the lookout for new perspectives in literature, so when I saw that Vanessa Riley’s new novel, “Island Queen,” was available for review, I jumped at the chance.

Set in the Regency period, “Island Queen” tells the story of Dorothy—called Dolly—Kirwan Thomas, a larger-than-life historical woman who was born into slavery. Dolly, relentlessly ambitious, soon buys her freedom (as well as that of all her family members). But she does not stop there.

An enterprising woman, Dolly starts her own business and quickly becomes wealthy. All is not as happy as it seems, however. Though Riley does not discuss either in depth, this novel has trigger warnings for rape and incest, and Riley does not shy away from the evils of slavery. Even after she gains her freedom, Dolly still faces persecution throughout the Caribbean. Illiterate and forced to depend on others during crucial negotiations, Dolly must navigate an extremely dangerous world.

This epic “rags to riches” novel has everything one needs in a good yarn—intrigue, romance and plenty of suspense. In fact, my only complaint about this novel is that there is too much plot. I would have loved to follow Dolly, who is complexly rendered on the page, for several books. Her attributes are shown to be either positive or negative depending on the context, and her life has enough ups and downs to fill several novels. Because Riley aims to cover all of Dolly’s life in one book, this novel gallops along where I wished it would linger.

I usually read “literary” fiction, but this is historical fiction at its finest. This dramatic and plot driven novel tells the story of one woman with big dreams, and Riley uses Dolly’s very contemporary sounding voice to explore themes that are still relevant in today’s world, including agency, power, racial passing, colorism and colonialism. Though this is historical fiction, Riley still manages to discuss these topics with a lot of depth so that her perspective seems both compassionate and nuanced. Riley reminds us that, though women of color have often been written out of history, their experiences are multifaceted and deserve to be told in all their nuance. 

This review was originally published in the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, VA.
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Island Queen is an extremely well-researched fascinating tale of a strong woman Dorothy "Doll" Kirwan Thomas, a former slave turned entrepreneur and very, very rich woman.  The book takes place in the 1700 and 1800s in the West Indies and England.  We learn about Doll's many lovers and large family, her brilliant business instincts and bravery. Her story is amazing and it's very important to learn the history of women, particularly women of color.  It's an amazing story.
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