NYTimes Review: A New Novel Gives Wings — and a Megaphone — to a Complex Woman

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Island Queen | Vanessa Riley | REGISTER FOR EVENT HERE


Review by Carole V. Bell | New York Times | July 5, 2021

ISLAND QUEEN
By Vanessa Riley

Vanessa Riley was intrigued when she encountered the figure of Miss Lambe in Jane Austen’s unfinished final novel, “Sanditon.” Given the dearth of people of color in 18th- and 19th-century British literature, she wanted to know where the wealthy colored debutante had come from. Was she a product of a progressive authorial imagination? Or had real-life Miss Lambes merely been excised from popular culture and public memory?

The quest to “find Miss Lambe” turned into a long and meaningful one for the author — a 10-year journey, which revealed that Austen’s aims may have been progressive but they weren’t born of fantasy. As Riley wrote, “Finding Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, the women of the Entertainment Society, and so many other Black women who had agency and access to all levels of power has restored my soul.” … continued

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

“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

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.–Booklist

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.