I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock
Series: Passing Bells #1
Published by William Morrow on December 4, 2012
Genres: Historical, Romance
Source: TLC Book Tours
Before there was Downton Abbey, there was Abingdon Pryory...
The guns of August are rumbling throughout Europe in the summer of 1914, but war has not yet touched Abingdon Pryory. Here, at the grand home of the Greville family, the parties, dances, and romances play on. Alexandra Greville embarks on her debutante season while brother Charles remains hopelessly in love with the beautiful, untitled Lydia Foxe, knowing that his father, the Earl of Stanmore, will never approve of the match. Downstairs the new servant, Ivy, struggles to adjust to the routines of the well-oiled household staff, as the arrival of American cousin Martin Rilke, a Chicago newspaperman, causes a stir.
But, ultimately, the Great War will not be denied, as what begins for the high-bred Grevilles as a glorious adventure soon takes its toll—shattering the household's tranquillity, crumbling class barriers, and bringing its myriad horrors home.
First Sentence: “The dawn came early, tinting a cloudless sky the palest shade of green.”
First published in 1978, The Passing Bells has gotten a new lease on life, thanks to the popularity of the BBC show Downton Abbey. As you can see from the description, this book is being marketed as similar to Downton, and, thankfully, there is some truth in that. However, the focus in The Passing Bells is much more on history than on romantic drama. The Passing Bells reads more like Herman Wouk’s Winds of War in a Downton-like setting.
The Passing Bells gets off to a rather slow start, introducing the myriad characters, but not delving too deeply to any one of them. This portion before the war is most reminiscent of Downton Abbey, but was also my least favorite part, because it lacked drama to pull me in and I did not yet know the characters well enough to be more than mildly interested in them. Given the 500+ pages in the book, I feared I might regret my decision to be on the tour for all three novels in this series, but, thankfully, the novel picked up for me about 150 pages in.
In Downton Abbey, WWI happens largely off-screen, and it’s over quite quickly. The show races through history, but Rock lingers. He does not gloss over the war or keep the perspective more on the romances. He also shows off more of the dark side of war, which may have been his goal in composing the series. Rock highlights this time period as the turning point in England from the time of the landed estates to a more modern sensibility.
The Passing Bells encompasses the whole of WWII, with an emphasis on the first couple years of the conflict. The characters in The Passing Bells have roles in the war that range from soldier to nurse to doctor to journalist to living a slightly reduced life back in England. There’s a great scope of British experiences during the war, all done very well. If you love historical fiction about World War I, The Passing Bells is a must read.
Rock develops a good cast of characters, some of whom are even reminiscent of characters in Downton Abbey, like Lydia who reminds me a lot of Lady Mary at her most scheming. I do wish there were more of an even focus on the female characters. The men receive a lot more attention than the women, who mostly appear only in relation to the male characters. The book does pass the Bechdel test, but only just barely.
Rock’s The Passing Bells is a family drama of large scope that poses serious questions about the nature of modern warfare. History fans will not want to miss this. I am looking forward to reading the next installment of the trilogy quite soon.
“‘Ever first novelist feels that the story of his life and his family is a world-shaking event that simply screams for print. I went through that stage myself, Martin. I was twelve at the time, and I suddenly noticed something that perhaps you have noted yourself—that I simply do not look at all like my father. Well, I began to ponder on that and reached the febrile conclusion that I was the result of a liaison between my mother and the King of Spain. Then, filled with plans for an epic saga of my first twelve years on earth, about the little English Jew who was in reality a bastard claimant to a Catholic throne, I went browsing in the attic and found a trunk. In that trunk were tintypes of my father and his long-dead sister, Rose. I was exactly like her, a carbon copy of the poor departed dear.'”