Island Queen, a Novel About Montserratian Dorothy Kirwan Released

Island Queen, a new novel by Vanessa Riley is recieving positive reviews for how it handles the story of a former Montserratian slave named Dorothy Kirwan.

Author Vanessa Riley (VR Photo)

“Seven years ago I was on a journey to prove people of color, Black women lived lives with agency during the Regency/Georgian Eras and their stories needed to be told,” author Vaness Riley said. Her quest has resulted in a new book released July 6 by Harper Collins.

Island Queen is being called 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.

Carole V. Belle, a writer and political communication scholar said in her New York Times review of the novel said that “Though Dorothy’s life is extraordinary, the reason her triumphs and stumbles hit so hard is that Riley does a brilliant job of connecting those events to something bigger. “Island Queen” provides an incisive interior view of some of the thorniest aspects of West Indian colonial culture: the roots of color and class privilege, the implications of concubinage and common-law marriages, and the participation of some free people of African ancestry in slavery. Evocative and immersive, Riley’s narrative bears that weight with grace; discovering Dorothy’s story is a singular pleasure.” Read her New York Times here.

Ursula Barzey of Caribbean & Co says the story of Dorothy Kirwan is one of zeal, focus, and sheer determination to succeed.

Read the Book Preview Here