Canadian biographer Justin C. Vovk rightly credits biographer Julia Gelardi for providing the inspiration and format that led to the publication of his first book, In Destiny's Hand (IUniverse:$25.95). Julia's most recent book is From Splendor to Revolution.
Vovk's book follows this format, which chronicles the lives of five of Empress Maria Theresa's children, all of whom became sovereigns or consorts, through the single narrative.
Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Franz, were the parents of sixteen children. Two of their sons, Joseph II and Leopold II, were Emperors of Austria. Amalia, Maria Carolina and Maria Antonia were the consorts of foreign sovereigns. Maria Theresa was a mother determined to secure powerful marriages for her children, thus increasing Austria's influence in Europe. This did not always work, especially in France, where being a Austrian archduchess did not do Maria Antonia any favors.
The lives of these five children were not easy. Joseph II nearly brought civil war to Austria while his successor, his younger brother, Leopold II, brought calm to his reign, although his early death put a damper on Austria's power.
Maria Amalia became the wife of the Duke of Parma. Maria Carolina married the King of the Two Sicilies. The youngest sister, Maria Antonia, made the most glittering of marriages, when she wed the future King Louis XVI. Maria Antonia, better known as Marie Antoinette, was the most famous of Maria Theresa's children, largely due to the French revolution and the regicide that followed.
This is Vovk's first book, and he should be commended for taking on such a challenge. In Destiny's Hand is a largely competent historical work, as the author makes use of myriad of primary and secondary sources, biographies, histories, family correspondence. Maria Theresa was an inveterate letter writer, especially to her daughters. Private correspondence was how the Empress kept in touch with her children.
Vovk tries very hard to provide a balanced account of the lives of the five children. This is not an easy task as the narrative, at times, can be confusing. There were times I needed a scorecard to keep track of the marriages between cousins and the family machinations.
Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette were executed by the revolutionaries, and Marie Antoinette's sisters never forgave the French for her death. Amalia and Maria Carolina's antipathy toward Napoleon never wavered. Parma and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies suffered greatly (as did the two sisters and their families) from Napoleon's aggrandizment.
The lives of the five children dovetail neatly into the development of the Austro-Hungary empire as Napoleon's ambitions wreak havoc with Parma and the Two Sicilies.
Apart from Marie Antoinette, I knew very little about Joseph, Leopold, Amalia and Maria Carolina, although I do have Harald Acton's two volumes on the Bourbons of Naples in my library.
I do have several quibbles. The book could have used an editor. What happened to the final paragraphs on page 61? A bit of the text is missing. The index is too simplistic, which makes it difficult to look for certain events within the book.
IUniverse is a print on demand, self-publisher that offers clients editorial evaluation services. This is not the same as a good editor who actually helps massage a book toward publication.
I also wondered why the author neglected to mention that the true reason for Joseph II's visit to Marie Antoinette was to find out why her marriage had not been consummated after nearly six years of marriage. Joseph helped to resolve the issue, and Marie Antoinette became pregnant several months later.
The book is available through Amazon and Amazon Kindle. I only hope for Mr. Vovk's sake that he can be signed by a traditional publisher with editors who can turn his prose into a more readable and less confusing text. He certainly has the talent - and an appreciation for history.
In Destiny's Hands is available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble (online) and Kindle and Nook.
I have included the links for the US and UK paperback and Kindle editions.