cover image Island Queen

Island Queen

Vanessa Riley. Morrow, $27.99 (592p) ISBN 978-0-06-300284-5

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. Agent: Sara Younger, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (July)