“I have to give big props to the minds responsible for resurrecting this series. Thanks to the popularity of Downton Abbey, everyone seems to be looking for something Downton-esque these days, which is fortunate for readers and for Rock's trilogy. Originally published back in the 70s, the trilogy has been repackaged and rereleased for all of us Downton fans! (No, there's no connection between the series and Downton except the whole people-who-like-this-will-also-like... deal, which is totally fine with me!)
This first in the trilogy begins in the summer of 1914 just before the beginning of WWI. For the Greville family of Abingdon Pryory, the season begins with plans of daughter Alexandra's introduction as an eligible bachelorette in London and concern over son Charles's infatuation with Lydia Foxe - a match his father, Lord Stanmore, would never approve. Hanna Greville's American nephew has arrived for a visit and talk is centered around home rule concerns. But when war breaks out in Europe, even the Grevilles are not immune to the dangers it presents.
When I first learned of this release, I have to admit I was pretty anxious to get to it. I am a pretty big Downton fan and was very much looking forward to diving into Passing Bells. I found myself completely engrossed from the very beginning. What was surprising, and I've seen others mention this very thing, was that the book took a completely unexpected turn. I definitely thought it be more of the Downton/Upstairs, Downstairs drama, so when part two launched into WWI as heavily as it did, I was a little unprepared. It was a pleasant (if reading about war can be described as pleasant) surprise.
Much of the focus of the book is on the characters and through them we see how people are affected by the war. Each character in turn offers a slightly different way of seeing events. For example, Fenton Wood-Lacy, a friend of the Grevilles, is at the forefront of the battle from the very early stages. Martin, Hanna's nephew, is also in the thick of it as a journalist representing a Chicago paper. Alexandra volunteers as a nurse while her father is reeling not only from the violence in Europe but the massive changes Abingdon is experiencing as a result.
In spite of its size, I found that The Passing Bells moved along at a wonderful pace. I never felt as though the book was hung up or slowed at any point even though it did take me longer to read than many I've delved into of late. This was also a pleasant surprise since it forced me to slow down and savor the read. And it is definitely a book to be savored.”