“Riveting and transformative, evocative and immersive...by 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.
Riley (An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler) delivers a spirited narrative of an enslaved woman turned Caribbean power broker, based on a historical figure. Born in 1756 on Montserrat, Dorothy Kirwan Thomas is the mixed-race daughter of an Irish plantation owner and a Black enslaved woman. At 13, she runs away from her rapist half brother, leaving their one-year-old daughter behind with her mother and ending up in Demerara. She begins accumulating wealth by hiring out housekeepers to the colony's newcomers, and eventually buys freedom for herself and her family. She parlays her savvy entrepreneurial skills into adding a hotel and sugar cane plantation to her substantial assets, expanding her empire to Dominica, Grenada, and Barbados. Her love affairs with a local planter, shipper Joseph Thomas (they eventually marry), and England's Prince William expand her family to 10 children. When the British Empire imposes a tax on the West Indies, which Demerara's corrupt governor places only on wealthy, free women of color, Dorothy persuades Lord Bathurst to rescind it. While the narrative is overly long and often stalls out in repetition, Riley has made a fascinating character out of Dorothy. Readers will enjoy Riley's depiction of Dorothy's unconventional life.