Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Passing Bells Series ~ Phillip Rock

The Passing Bells (Passing Bells, #1)
The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"Before there was Downton Abbey, there was Abingdon Pryory..."

I found this book in Chapters and was naturally drawn by that proclamation on front cover. Yes, I should have realised that this book was just making useless claims, but being drawn to all things Downtonesque (yes, I just invented that word), I decided to give this novel a chance.

So this wasn't that bad of a book. I thought it was a newly written work due to the reference to Downton Abbey, but instead I discovered that it was written in the 70s, republished December 2012.

The story introduces us to the Greville family and surrounding friends and family who are intrinsically linked to their lives. Britain is standing on the brink of WWI and changes are come for the inhabitants of Abingdon Pryory, including the Earl of Stanmore, head of Abingdon.

There is of course a mish mash of countries including Germany, Britain, America, Canada, Balkan countries, etc. We see a varied and general point-of-view of communism, socialism, the precipitation of the war, the upper and lower classes in Britain, the beginning of feminism and so on.

Truthfully, Rock tries his hardest to encompass the entire era, but there is simply TOO MUCH going on for him to properly. I suppose the reference to Downtown Abbey is in regard to the servant's stories and the upper class life, but mostly I felt the novel had nothing to do with that comparison. I was surprised at how UNLIKE Downtown Abbey the novel really was.

Rock also brings in the entrance of the radio that forever changed the course of print history. It was most intriguing to read about how newspapers were written and information passed along. There were trite little love affairs during WWI and other such tomfooleries.

In his attempt to recreate what life was like during that time, Rock throws all these random occurrences in and loses the point of his story several times. Instead of having a climax or anything of substance happen, the novel meanders along through different people's lives. I can attribute that to it being part of a trilogy, but I still found it frustrating.

Another that really set me against the book was the discussions/long heavy paragraphs about WWI all in military talk. Who understands what type of lingo?? I certainly didn't. Half the time I skimmed through those paragraphs because I could never truly grasp what was going on.

Despite my issues with the pace of the novel, the characters are interesting enough. They could have been better developed if more time had been spent on them, but in his attempt to encompass so many issues in one medium sized book, Rock loses the quality of his characters and dialogue.

Sometimes while reading the book the dialogue and language felt a little forced and strange. Later I glanced at Phillip Rock's biography. Apparently he was originally from England but lived quite a while in America...which explained why he sounded like someone trying to sound British. I'm not sure if I'm articulating myself clearly here, but there was something off about his descriptions and dialogue.

Anyway, it's still a decent read. I gave it 3/5 stars, mainly because at times I slogged through it and considered putting it down.

View all my reviews Circles of Time (Passing Bells, #2)Circles of Time by Phillip Rock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Circles of Time, the second novel in Phillip Rock's "Passing Bells" series, brings us back to the Greville family and their life post WWI. The world is evolving and great change is coming, yet the Earl of Stanmore wishes for the simpler times of the past.

Charles, the Earl's first born son and heir to the family estate, is suffering from severe PTSD that has caused him to withdraw and become noncommunicable. Hidden away in home up in Wales it becomes easy for the rest of the Greville family to put him to the back of their minds. Meanwhile his sister Alexandra, now a widow of the war, is practically being pimped out by her parents who are attempting to get her married ASAP. Due to her having a child with her divorced-now-dead husband they feel ashamed. The earl is unable to reconcile to her. Gaps are everywhere.

Yes, it's as ridiculous as it sounds. In the meantime, the family cousin and famous reporter Marin Rilke begins to try out broadcasting on the radio, bringing in the storm of the CBC craze. He travels throughout the world, sees the slow but inevitable rise of the Nazi party and worries that a bigger storm is coming.

In some ways I felt that this book was much softer than it's predecessor. Rock kills off some main characters in the first book but is much kinder in the second. To me it felt somewhat like a cop out, but it was still an enjoyable read.

Most of the book is spent focused on the nearing of WWII and the economy of the world during the 20s. The Great Depression is alluded to, as well as the Wall Street crash and the rampant rise of communism in Russia. Some parts are spent briefly explaining the establishment of the Arab government under British coaching.

I found that reading the second book was easier than reading the first, perhaps because I was knowledgeable and comfortable with the characters. The dialogue was still spotty, but altogether it was a decent read. It didn't have the same boring rants about WWI that the first book did so I would give it a 3.5 out of 5. Curse you Goodreads for not yet having half star rating abilities!

View all my reviews A Future Arrived (Passing Bells, #3)A Future Arrived by Phillip Rock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Future Arrived is the final book in the trilogy The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock.

In the first and second books (which I also reviewed), we are introduced to the Stanmore family, the main characters suffer through WWI and the changes the Britain faces during the 20s including prohibition, feminism, the introduction of the radio into the common household and PTSD.

Each of the family members are in turn exposed to new ideas and changes. Alex falls in love with the former family chauffeur. The earl flies in an aeroplane. Charles becomes a school master. Each characters takes on a role as the years bring them closer to the inevitable start of WWII.

The third novel tends to focus more on the brother of a deceased character, his exposure to the world as a reporter, and the state of Germany's economy.

As far as closure goes, the novel was a solid ending and each character was left with strings neatly tied up in a bow...perhaps TOO neatly. To me, the first book brought so much suffering and sadness to the Greville family, but somehow the series ended with everyone being okay and thing all round looking good.

It was a bit too good to be true, in my opinion. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and for something absolutely devastating to happen to the Greville family, but no. Everything somehow works out.

I said this in my review of this first book...even though on the cover there is a claim that the series is similar to Downton Abbey, it really isn't at all. Not even close. The books focus far more on the life of people in the 20s and 30s than in the class differences.

If you are looking to read a historical fiction set in this time period that is educational as well as interesting, I would suggest Fall of Giants by Ken Follett over this series. Fall of Giants is similar in bringing in several characters and showing their growth and experiences throughout different areas of Europe during the onset of the nineteenth century, but it is historically accurate and the dialogue is MUCH better.

All over I give this entire series a 3.5/5. It was a good read, but it lacked true character development and the dialogue was stilted much of the time.

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