cover image Queen of Exiles

Queen of Exiles

Vanessa Riley. Morrow, $32 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-327099-2

The uneven latest from Riley (Island Queen) follows Queen Marie-Louise Christophe from early 1800s Haiti and the opulent, often ostentatious rule of her husband, King Henry Christophe, to a life of exile in Europe. After fleeing the island with her daughters and a few loyal attendants in the wake of the king’s death and a subsequent uprising, Marie-Louise finds her footing as a powerful Black woman touring new lands: “Whether exiled or on the throne, I am a queen.” Though the undertow of sorrow at all she’s lost is always churning, she never succumbs to its grasp. Instead, she draws strength from her memories of the beauty of the Haitian people and the complicated love of her troubled husband, a veteran of the Haitian revolution traumatized by enslavement and war. Marie-Louise eventually settles in Italy, where she is driven to achieve the status and recognition that Henry so desperately craved. The nonlinear time jumps can be confusing, and there’s a bit too much anachronistic language (“It was me and my man, against the world”), though Riley’s extensive research and textured approach, which incorporates copies of real newspaper clippings from Europe before and after Marie-Louise’s exile, plainly show how Haiti and its people of color were repeatedly undermined by imperial powers. Despite some bumps along the way, Riley does justice to a queen and her people. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary Agency. (July)