Book Reviews

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Dorothy (Dolly) Kirwan Thomas was born into slavery on the island of Montserrat to a slave mother and an Irish slave owning father. Dolly saved the money she earned from huckstering and was able to buy her families freedom from her Irish father. From there Dolly worked to build wealth and power for her family. 

When I finished this book the first thing I said was “WOW”. There were multiple reasons why I had this reaction 1.) I haven’t read a historical fiction where I learned as much as I learned in this book. It took me forever to read this book because I kept stopping, doing research, and taking notes. 2.) The story of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas was amazing, the woman herself was amazing and Vanessa Riley’s telling ‘of Dorothy’s life was captivating. 3.) I felt so many different emotions while reading this book; anger, sadness, frustration, and pride.

After reading the first couple of chapters I was fully immersed in this book. When I bought this book my first thought was this book is too long it’s gonna take me forever to read it, WRONG. I could not put this book down except when I was doing research. From the moment I read about the rebellion in Montserrat in 1761 I knew I was in for an emotional rollercoaster. Dolly went from being this innocent five year old who wanted her pa to stay home and didn’t understand the world around her, to a slave girl who was determined to buy her families freedom, then a free woman with a family that she financially supported as she continued to build her self made wealth. The resilience Dolly had made me proud. Dolly had every obstacle thrown her way from rape to political power used to try to tear her down but she never let it break her. I loved that Vanessa Riley didn’t just write her as this super woman who had all this strength but as a woman with flaws who experienced depression, who was lonely and craved a mans touch, who cried when she needed to, got discouraged when the white men used politics to hold her back, but in spite of all that she used the power of her village to get back up and kept moving to accomplish her dreams.

I learned a lot of historical facts while reading this book. First I never heard of most of the islands in this book like Montserrat, Dominica, and Demerara so of course I didn’t know about slavery there. Slavery on the islands was the same while also being different than the US. I also had never heard of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas and while this isn’t US history I for one think this is a part of Black History that we all should know. There was so much untold history in the book that I truly appreciated.  

The one thing I felt was missing was the relationship building between Dolly and her older sister and Dolly and her grandmother. Dolly paid for their freedom but there wasn’t much said about her relationship that she built with them. The grandmother and older sister were mentioned a couple of times but that was it. I would have liked to of gotten more from those characters but it didn’t take away from the overall story. 

Dolly was a women with needs, see had eleven kids and more than a couple baby daddies. I didn’t really think less of Dolly’s story because of that. To me it’s no different than the women of today who have multiple partners only difference is there is birth control now so women don’t always end up with as many kids and baby daddies like back in the day. I had no problem with Dolly having several lovers especially since they all loved them some Dolly.

This was a great story, I appreciate Vanessa Riley for giving us this fictional telling of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas’ life with so many historical facts. This is a long book but it spans from 1761 to 1824 during Dolly’s prime so the additional pages were necessary to truly capture Dorothy Kirwan Thomas’ story.

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