Review: Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Being silent on matters of justice – that’s something I’ve never done.

Island Queen

Summary and Thoughts

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, Dolly 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 Dolly 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.


I received a digital copy of Vanessa Riley’s Island Queen earlier this month via Netgalley (thank you!), and eager to read a historical fiction account of the incredible Dorothy Kirwan, I jumped right in. Riley’s background as a romance writer shone through the pages, giving the chronicle a dramatic, engaging, and thoughtful lens. It’s easy to fall into step with the novel’s tempo . . . at least, at first it is. Unfortunately for me, at the halfway mark the book lost its momentum, changing from a story to a list of events. Though I had enjoyed reading about Dorothy’s romances, challenges, and suffering in the beginning, as the novel moved on, it couldn’t seem to find its footing in keeping Dorothy constantly growing as a character in addition to introducing her to new trials and tribulations. As a result, the pacing and structure could benefit from some refining, cutting, and refocusing. Still, despite these issues, I’m still glad to have read Riley’s novel and appreciate the weight of historical research that went into this story. For this reason, I’d selectively recommend this book to others and will look forward to Riley’s future works.

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

Notable Reviews

  • Since the book has not yet been officially published, reviews are currently restricted to Netgalley

For Those Who Enjoyed

Star Rating


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