Cover Image: Island Queen

Island Queen

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Member Reviews

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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I’m unsure about how to explain my experience during this book. While the author is a fantastic writer, the scenes left me feeling a bit awkward and cringing. I hear this will be made into a serious, and I think it’s appropriate
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WOW! What a wonderful story. Vanessa Riley clearly did her research before writing this. I love the way she showed all the strong women in this. I definitely recommend this!
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It's astounding the amount of research the author did for this novel.  What an enormous project this must have been.  This historical fiction is more biography than fiction.  Based on a real woman whose journey is unparalleled, "Dolly" went from being born into slavery, to buying her own freedom, and fighting for her rights as an independent, free black woman who created her own wealth - IMMENSE wealth - during a time period where none of those descriptive words were anywhere close to common.  Her journey blows my mind.  It seems like it would be pure fiction.  But it's not!  And centuries later, Vanessa Riley comes along and brings this woman's story to the masses where we can be as awestruck as this main character deserves.  What an inspiration this novel is.  What an inspiration Dorothy Kirwan Thomas is and was.
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This meticulously researched historical novel is based on the true life story of Dorothy “Dolly” Kirwin Thomas, who was born a slave to an enslaved mother and Irish planter father. This incredibly brave woman, bought freedom for herself, her mother, and her sister and became one of the wealthiest landowners in the West Indies, with holdings in Dominica, Barbados, and Demerara. She endured the injustice and cruelty of slavery and struggled for the goals of becoming financially independent and making sure her entire family was free. The story runs from 1761 to 1824 and jumps between islands in the West Indies and London. Over her life Dolly was involved with three men and bore ten children. She fought both racial prejudice and the oppression of women and achieved dignity for herself and her family. There were many painful incidents in this story and the author should be commended for bringing this woman’s accomplishments to a wider audience. It is a very long book and it was sometimes hard to keep all of the characters straight, but it was well worth reading.
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Let me be perfectly honest: I had this book a while ago via NEtGalley but I purposely waited to give this review until i listened to the audiobook which was narrated WONDERFULLY by Adjoa Andoh from Bridgerton. Oh my god. I was completely wrapped in the book and her narration took it over the top. As a person married  to someone from the Caribbean, we did not know that this history existed. And I made it a point to listen with my husband.  Vanessa Riley is a genuine scholar of the regency and Black folks. and you can tell she takes the time to educate and entertain her audience. Her fictionization of Doll was just breathtaking.
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Love everything about this book from the writing to the characters. It was such a great journey. I felt transported into the story
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Wow! Dolly's story is amazing and I'm so glad to now know it! I learned so much in this book and really enjoyed it. 
With that said this book is too long.  Idk how many times I read about details that didn't matter or Riley would mention a person for one paragraph that was never brought up again.  
I also wanted to know more about her struggles to get her freedom and less about the men in her life. I did like that Riley says more than once that men are her weakness. It made it a little less annoying.
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This was a really different read for me and I can't really pin point why when I absolutely love historical fiction and romance. This novel was incredible I didn't;t realize until I was over half way through the book that it's actually based on a real life incredible woman. This novel tackles some tough subjects like racism and sexism, but it's absolutely worth the read despite bringing up some uncomfy topics. If you like reading about string women who persevere and come out on top this is the read for you.
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Island Queen is based on the true story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, an enslaved woman living in Montserrat.  Born to an enslaved mother and Irish father, Dorothy purchases her own freedom, along with that of her mother and sister.  The story follows her amazing life--from freedom, to entrepreneurship, successful businesses, then her later life with her children and grandchildren and beneficiaries of her success.

Vanessa Riley deserves the accolades she is getting for Island Queen.  She brings a little known story to life and creates characters as if she was able to know them personally.  It's very well researched into the time period and I'm looking forward to more historical fiction from Riley.
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I just turned the final page of Island Queen. I'm not sure I have words to do it justice. But Vanessa Riley did. What she has created is nothing short of a masterpiece. This impeccably-researched recreation of an extraordinary life immersed me into Dolly's world, from the terror and bloodshed of a young slave child's first rebellion, to the ninth decade of a life lived to the fullest. Riley held nothing back, giving readers a front-row seat to the uncensored lows and highs of this fascinating and complicated woman's life. By the end of the book, I didn't only know about Doll. I knew her. Riley brought her to life, with all her flaws, strengths, fears, fierceness, and vulnerability. She may not have secured page space in our history books but I would wager that no one who reads Island Queen will ever forget Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. I know I won't. 

This is a long book - almost 600 pages - but the narrative never lost me. I was fully engaged from beginning to end. Not a single sentence or character was extraneous. Each carefully considered word was necessary to do this story justice. 

Be sure to also read the Author's Notes at the end of the book as they are filled with fascinating facts about Riley's research as well as more information about Dolly's children, grandchildren, and other real-life characters in the book. 

Island Queen is one of the best books I've read in 2021.  It has my highest recommendation.

*Top Dish - 5 Star Review

CW: Readers should be aware that some parts of the book involving rape, incest, death, and slavery may be difficult to read but, in my opinion, are necessary to understand the full scope of Dolly's life. 

*ARC received for fair and unbiased review
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This literary novel is an astonishing achievement. Doll was born into slavery, but her hard work and entrepreneurial endeavors allowed her to buy freedom for herself and her family. Beautifully written and often heart-wrenching, this fictional account primarily dramatizes important events in her personal life.  

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.
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Island Queen is the real-life story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, aka Dolly or Doll, as she was sometimes called.  History intended on burying her story forever. It is with much gratitude that I thank Vanessa Riley for taking the time to bring Dorothy Kirwan Thomas to us. Its findings leave you feeling empowered. 

Island Queen begins with a little enslaved girl, which by definition is resilient and refuses to accept the word "No"! Check this out to find all the ways she had overcome.

During her journey, she experienced many men drawn to her beauty, spirit, and drive. Much like us, drawn to the beauty of the cover, but when we get to the pages, we experience the exceptional job the author did with uncovering and eloquently telling this untold truth of a powerful woman from enslaved to freedom/rags to riches. 

There are many takeaways in Island Queen, to name a few; 
The past does not define your future.
Know your worth--her children needed to understand this, and she made others aware.
There are blessings in helping others.
True love can conquer all.

Dorothy gives us much to celebrate in what I like to call her Black Girl Passion, but the author reminds us that Dorothy was not a superwoman but, instead, she was a woman with hopes, dreams, and sorrows. Her journey was not easy, as I am sure you can imagine. She dealt with many obstacles, abuse, loss, and other harsh truths.

I love how the format in which the author told the story.  It made taking in the wealth of information a bit easier.  It is rich in the kind of history that should be in classrooms. It's knowledge of the importance of knowing and understanding the laws, cultures, and their meanings. Also, the importance of the legacy you leave.    

Island Queen is a story worthy of being told!!!
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Dolly Kirwan is a young slave on a plantation in the West Indies owned by her Irish (white) father who treats her, well, like a little doll he can pay attention to when he pleases and ignore all other times. Her mother, also a slave, tries not to raise Dolly’s hopes that she will ever have the freedoms and opportunities bestowed on her white half-brother. But Dolly is determined to be a businesswoman and buy herself and her family out of slavery.

The story is set during the cusp of the 19th century, during turbulent times and wars between the British, France and U.S. Freedom from oppression is on everyone’s lips and so it comes as no surprise slaves also would battle for their own freedom. Author Vanessa Riley does an amazing job bringing to life this real-life character who went from being a slave to a rich and savvy businesswoman.

This is a story of hope and determination, made all the better because it is based on the real life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. A fascinating read.
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thank you so much #partners @bibliolifestyle & @williammorrowbooks for this beautiful copy 😍

what i really appreciated most about this novel is that @vanessarileyauthor taught me a history i never knew. ya’ll know that my historical interests lie in African American history, specifically in the 20th century, so to read a little more in the slave trade was different & needed. fam- i had noooo idea that the Irish dabbled in the trans-atlantic trade👀 NONE. i mean it makes sense bc literally EVERYBODY was in on it, but history in public schools place the most emphasis on the British & French (then maybe the Spanish & Portuguese- it depends on how racist your school district was🤷🏾‍♀️)

Dorothy “Dolly” Kirwan Thomas. remember & put some respect on that name!

this book is about 600 pages but the chapters are relatively short & the concluding pages of said chapters make you want to read more😊 it already came out, so no need to wait to read/audio it!
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Island Queen by Vanessa Riley is a fascinating story about hardship, love, betrayal and triumph.  Set in the18th century colonial Caribbean, it is a fictionalized account of the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, a real woman of color.  She was born a slave and, through her wits and strength, gained her freedom and became a powerful business woman and benefactor.
The storytelling is excellent, and clearly the novel was meticulously researched.  It was hard to read about the treatment of the slaves on the plantation, and also frustrating to watch Dorothy endure the betrayal of the men in power in her region.   But reading about the survival and achievements of “Dolly” are well worth the readers’ time, even at a 600+ page count.
I will look for more novels by Vanessa Riley!

Thank you to William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers for the ARC.  This is my unbiased review.
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