A former slave rises above the harsh realities of being owned and colonialism on Montserrat working hard to buy freedom for herself, her mother, and her sister and becoming an entrepreneur, merchant, hotelier, and planter.
Riley’s commitment to restoring these unsung women to their rightful place in the popular imagination was a driving force behind her riveting and transformative new novel. Yet her chosen subject bears little resemblance to a pampered heiress like Miss Lambe; the contours of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas’s life have a much harsher bent ... It’s a powerful story, and Riley tells it well. The author’s most important creative decision is to put this remarkable yet very human woman not just at the center of the story, but in full control of it ... There’s a beautiful intimacy in Dorothy’s first-person narration, both in substance and expression: the candid ebb and flow of her complex long-term relationships with men, mutually beneficial yet unsatisfying arrangements; how she fought to find love in the wreckage of slavery; the children she births and nurtures; the business she builds; the relentless search for stability and security in a world that offers neither to women like her. By turns vibrant and bold, defiant and wise, Riley’s tone and words are well suited to her subject.
A very good novel about a very extraordinary woman that feels like a return to epic sagas about strong women persevering against the impossible popular in the 1970s ... based on the real life of a very real woman, and Vanessa Riley largely succeeds in bringing her to life ... The book fearlessly speaks to the racism Doll, her family and her children experienced, and discusses the legal strictures that hemmed in women like her the world over. It also takes a deep peek into the society she would’ve had to live in, and the way she raised her very different children. My only real problem with the book is that I would’ve liked a deeper look into the business world in which Doll thrived. A lot of ink is spilled on her personal life and private affairs, but I’d love to know more about how she built her brand, and convinced white settlers of British and Irish stripe alike to employ the services offered by a Black woman. Island Queen is just the right mix of personal intrigue, historical scope and true tale. It’s an absolute delight.
... not for the faint of heart ... We come to admire Dolly as we see how hard she works to earn money for her freedom and that of her family. She faces so many obstacles to getting ahead in life ... heartrending ... This is a story of subjugation but also of triumph. And make no mistake about it, Dolly is triumphant in the end.