The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock
(From the publisher) Before Downton Abbey, there was Abingdon Pryory, the elegant country home of the Grevilles—a titled English family who, along with their servants, see their world turned upside down when England goes to war. Once their well-kept lawns and whirling social seasons give way to the horrors of World War I, no one, upstairs or downstairs, is left untouched. For fans of sweeping historical fiction, the reissue of Phillip Rock’s New York Times bestseller The Passing Bells is a breathtaking family saga not to be missed.
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If you’re looking for a plot-heavy story with action and intrigue, I’ll give you a heads up in saying that this probably isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for a book with rich writing and the slow unfurling of characters — this is an insightful WWI period timepiece.
This book was originally published in the 1970s and given a second printing in 2012 thanks to the popularity of Downton Abbey. And it makes sense that the publishers would market it in this way. The book is set during the same time period (the start of WWI) and deals with a lot of the same class upheaval and struggle.
But while the setting may be Downton-esque, the story, however, is unique. (The Earl of Stanmore is married to a wealthy American to keep the estate running, but besides that, there aren’t too many plot similarities.)
With the exception of a chauffeur and a maid, The Passing Bells mostly follows the upstairs inhabitants and friends of Abingdon Pryory. And trust me, there are a lot of them. The first few chapters were downright confusing as I tried to keep track and puzzle through who they all were. Once I settled into the book though, I quickly fell in love with the Greville family.
This book is a sweeping epic, revealing the tragic futility and devastating consequences of a world war. Warning: Some of the war scenes are quite graphic, attempting to accurately depict the carnage, despair, and devastating effects of trench warfare. Contains some language / sexual content.
I was thoroughly immersed for the first half of this book but felt a little bogged down by the sheer volume of war details in the middle — and thus, the book lost a star there for me. Still, I am very much looking forward to reading the rest of this trilogy. (You can find Book #2, Circles of Time, here. Or check out Book #3, A Future Arrived, here.)
For fans of historical fiction, this novel is heavy (both in size and content), but well-worth the read.
You can grab your own copy of The Passing Bells on Amazon, here.
Or, find more reviews about it on Goodreads, here.