BUST Island Queen 73a2e

Vanessa Riley’s Historical Novel “Island Queen” Focuses On The Journey, Not The Destination Of Dorothy “Doll” Kirwin Thomas: BUST Review

by BUST Magazine

Island Queen: A Novel
By Vanessa Riley
(William Morrow)

“Tu ikiwa uko huru.” Dorothy “Doll” Kirwin Thomas’ mantra in Vanessa Riley’s historical novel, Island Queen, means, “Only if you’re free, then you can be.” Born into slavery in the colonial West Indies, the real Thomas fought for freedom at a time when she was barely seen as human. “I’m luckier, I guess. My black is beautiful,” Doll says, in response to the suggestion that she—a dark-skinned Creole woman with an Irish father—should feel cheated that she can’t pass as white.

Instead of writing a just-the-facts biography, Riley gives Doll a chance to tell her own harrowing story. Doll is given agency, reveling in the forbidden love she shares with John Coseveldt Cells, a wealthy planter with a secret of his own. While tame, the couple’s bodice-ripping should still excite Bridgerton fans, all while laying bare the shrewdness it takes and the loneliness that comes with shattering glass ceilings—especially as a woman of color. It spoils nothing to say Doll ends up on top, becoming one of the richest women in the early 1800s Caribbean. But Island Queen is focused on her journey, not her destination. 

By Shannon Carlin

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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