Island Queen: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Dorothy “Doll” Kirwan bought her freedom, built a thriving business, had 10 kids, and owned land.  She did this as a woman born into slavery who could do math but not read. The political landscape and violent social hierarchy of the time kept Kirwan in crisis for a lot of her life, making her defensive moves admirable and her offensive plans impressive. Broken up into quick chapters the book takes on a diary feeling, the story like a recollection that might naturally veer in and out of her childhood; between her relatively safe periods and more frequent times of peril. A number of men fall for and pledge their love to Doll, if not follow through on it. Everyone around her who is not in love is baffled (and sometimes violently angered) by her success. Readers witness her strength and are there for her weaknesses. It’s no quick read at 592 pages, but once it's underway one can sense the uncertainty of the sea, feel the Caribbean sand shifting underfoot.

— From Fiction Recommendations

July 2021 Indie Next List

“Both sweeping and intimate, beautiful and painful, this novel based on the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas is exquisite. Riley’s research is palpable in the detail of each chapter, and readers will find themselves compulsively turning the pages until the end.”
— Destinee Hodge, East City Bookshop, Washington, DC


“Riveting and transformative, evocative and turns vibrant and bold and wise, discovering Dorothy’s story is a singular pleasure.”--The New York Times

A remarkable, sweeping historical novel based on the incredible true life story 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. 

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.

About the Author

In addition to being a novelist, Vanessa Riley holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and a master’s in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University. She also earned BS and MS in mechanical engineering from Penn State University.  She currently juggles mothering a teen, cooking for her military-man husband, and speaking at women's and STEM events. She loves baking her Trinidadian grandma's cake recipes and collecting Irish crochet lace. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her porch in Georgia, with a cup of Earl Grey tea. Riley lives in Atlanta. 

Praise For…

“There’s a beautiful intimacy in Dorothy’s first-person narration both in substance and expression…Though the story is epic in sweep, its genius lies in its revelation of Dolly’s heroism and her flaws within that subjective voice…Riley does a brilliant job.”
New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice) 

"Dazzling...compelling...Riley combines in-depth research with passionate and frank storytelling, The experiences and achievements of powerful women, especially those whose lives began among the enslaved, are too often overlooked, and Riley’s richly engaging novel is a ringing reminder of how much we miss when these stories remain untold."

“This book is not only a one-sitting read, it’s a slice of history that needs to be told. Utterly brilliant, powerful, and inspiring.”
— Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author of Always the Last to Know

“Richly detailed, vividly depicted, and sweeping in scope, Island Queen is historical fiction at its absolute finest. A stunning must-read!”
Chanel Cleeton, New York Times bestselling author of The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba

Island Queen is the magnificently reconstructed life story of Dorothy ‘Doll’ Kirwan Thomas, whose fascinating legacy of grit and success desperately deserves to be better known. With lush prose and raw emotion, Riley vividly captures the complexity of bringing to life a time of rebellion and possibility.”
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Stephanie Dray

“Riveting and transformative, evocative and turns vibrant and bold and wise, discovering Dorothy’s story is a singular pleasure.”
New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice) 

"Island Queen is what you would get if you were to drop Olivia Pope and all the men who lusted after her into the 18th Century Caribbean. . . With prose that reads like poetry, Vanessa Riley expertly steers the reader through Dolly’s heartbreaking lows all the way into her triumphant emergence as the richest free woman of color in the islands. Passionate, headstrong, and loyal, Riley’s version of the real-life Dorothy Kirwan Thomas legend will make readers fall in love with this overlooked 'hidden' queen."
Kaia Alderson, author of Sisters in Arms 

“Riley…delivers a spirited narrative of an enslaved woman turned Caribbean power broker, based on a historical figure…Riley has made a fascinating character out of Dorothy.”
Publishers Weekly

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063002845
ISBN-10: 0063002841
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 6th, 2021
Pages: 592
Language: English