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The Passing Bells

(Passing Bells #1)

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,735 ratings  ·  272 reviews
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 histor ...more
Kindle Edition, 528 pages
Published December 4th 2012 by William Morrow (first published January 1st 1978)
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Teal It was completely different. The title is from a poem from that era, so that's apparently why they share the same title.
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Average rating 3.79  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,735 ratings  ·  272 reviews

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I love a good mystery. I just didn’t know that I would be so personally engaged in one for over thirty years.

In 1980, a read a book about an aristocratic English family during WWI that I absolutely adored. I was so enthusiastic about it that I promptly loaned it to my best friend who never thought of it again until about a year later when I asked for it back. She had no idea where my copy was. I was devastated. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to write down the title or author. I could
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Given the Downton Abbey craze, I was apprehensive about this trilogy: was it any good or just a marketing ploy to cash in while DA is hot?

Thankfully, happily, awesomely, this book is good. Great. Another meaty hist fic that satisfies. This review, however, is probably going to be a hot mess, because how do I describe what is contained in these 500+ pages without just squeeing stupidly? Here goes:

The novel follows a few families and tangential individuals from 1914 through 1920
England, 1914. The world is slowly changing, but not so much for the residents of Abingdon Pryory. Anthony Greville, 9th earl of Stanmore, married a rich American heiress to wife to keep the estate and his lifestyle as tradition demands. Their eldest son is in love with the wrong sort of woman (her father’s in trade!), but otherwise things run as they always have – both upstairs and down. But, the sabers are rattling in Germany and everything begins to change, and the walls between the haves and ...more
Julie  Durnell
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england-uk
My rating on this book is mixed- 4 stars for the similarity to Downton Abbey Season 1; which I thoroughly enjoyed and 3 stars for the gritty horrors of the Great War; which was just a bit more than I cared for although it was extremely well written.
I know a lot of people love this book but it just wasn't for me.

I found it rather slow and choppy and the characters cardboard. I really didn't care what happened to them and when its WW1 and people might die and that's your reaction, well, there's really no point in continuing.

But because I absolutely looooove the cover art (theres sound reasoning for you :) I fully intended to slog through it regardless, but the third F bomb sealed it for me (and for those who care, th
Kevin Symmons
Mar 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am just now discovering that this novel and its sequels are more than 30 years old... long before Downton Abbey and WWI came into vogue. Nonetheless, it is one of the best written, most vivid novels I have ever read. Mr. Rock's deep characterizations, political insights and sad, bitter truthes are beyond classic. As a DA fan, a reader of Fall of Giants by Ken Follett and re-reader of Barbara Tugman's Guns of August recently I found this sadly honest and completely disarming. I cannot recall wh ...more
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really good WWI book. Sometimes, the war scenes were so long and complex that I got a little bogged down, but I loved the characters and their different stories. This is a plot-driven book, too, so it didn't hit me on an emotional level, but it was entertaining and interesting throughout.
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First in a trilogy set in England just before and during World War I, depicting an aristocratic family and those below stairs who serve them.

Readers seeking other Downton Abbey-like books can check out my list here:
Nov 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autumn-2014, wwi
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
MaryannC. Book Freak
An excellent read, why did I wait so long to read it?
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
Oct 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who enjoy WWI fiction
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 star
I have mixed feelings about this book!

I really liked the historical/World War I element. I learned more about the frustrations with the way the war was 'managed' rather than fought strategically and the huge losses that resulted. However, the characters themselves did not become 'real' to me and I couldn't engage with them (on the whole).

The author attempts to show how the world war changed Europe and much of the world not only politically and geographically, but socially
Katherine Gypson
I didn't know quite what to expect from "The Passing Bells." The comparisons to Downton Abbey drew me in but the potboiler description on Amazon and the cheesy covers from the original 1970s release almost kept me from requesting it for Christmas. I thought I might be getting myself into a John Jakes-type saga with thin historical value. Fortunately, I did request it - "The Passing Bells" is one of the best novels I've read about the Edwardian Era/WWI. I'm certain that almost all readers will fi ...more
Oct 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No spoilers.
Along with my love of fantasy and sci-fi I read a good deal of historical novels, however, I have not come across many these days that i have an interest in reading. Unfortunately, nothing is being produced by Wouk, Jakes, and of course writers such as Michener and, Clavell are gone. Other writers pit out books every few years if you are lucky.

Anyway I read a blurb on this series which is more than 30 years old. Picking up the first volume, and going to page 100, I
Dec 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the summer of 1914, Europe stands poised on the brink of any abyss, rumors of war poised to become a reality. But in England, the aristocratic Greville family is thoroughly occupied with more mundane, familial matters -- the romantic entanglements of the heir, Charles, and the upcoming social season that will see the debut of only daughter Alexandra. Fenton Wood-Lacy, eldest son of the architect responsible for restoring Abingdon Pryory, faces losing his commission in the Coldstream Guards an ...more
The class system of 1914 England faces an upheaval as war comes, and the lives of the main characters are forever altered by what the war brings and takes. It was a sad story, because World War 1 was a sad story of horrendous loss. I didn’t particularly like most of the characters (except for Winnifred, Martin and Ivy...the last two were my favourites), but nonetheless it was a very good novel. The writing style reminded me of Vera Brittain’s “A Testament of Youth”, and like that book this was a ...more
Sep 09, 2013 rated it liked it
My book club chose this book to read because a lot of us are fans of Downton Abbey and we had heard this book was similar. There definitely are similarities between the popular show and this book.... but I wouldn't say they are alike. Where as Downton Abbey spends most of its time talking about the the people on the estate, The Passing Bells, spends much more time on the horrors of the war.

Don't get me wrong... this was a very good book. There were quite a few main characters and the
This book has repeatedly been recommended to Downton Abbey fans; also the front cover of the new edition says: "Before Downton Abbey, there was Abingdon Pryory..." As I am a hardcore Downton Abbey fan and upon reading Laurel Ann's review, I knew I must read this trilogy. And, I ordered all three books without hesitation, because I prefer reading all parts of a series, even if it's very likely that I won't love all parts equally. Anyway, I am currently reading the third instalment; so, I don't have an o ...more
Bree (AnotherLookBook)
A historical saga centered around a household on an English estate in the months leading up to WWI and the difficult years of the war itself, when no member of the household above or below stairs goes unaffected. 1978.

See the full review at Another look book

Well, I pretty much devoured that...and it's not a short book, either! I wasn't expecting the book to take place mostly during war time, but I think it was actually a better, more meaningful read for how it depicted the horri
This is not a "great" book, but as is clear from my five stars I really loved it. It is about three young men in England right before World War I, and goes halfway through World War I, describing their war experiences and their love relationships. There was something terribly moving to me about these youths on the precipice of the disaster that was World War I, soon to be caught up in the dreadful maw of trench warfare and be forever changed by it. The effect of war on one of the boys, a young, ...more
Mar 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very affecting novel about the effects of World War I on a microcosm of the British upper classes, both aristocratic and military. Touches all bases: the "last summer" of 1914, the Great Retreat in the face of the German advance into France later that year, the catastrophe of Gallipoli, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, shell shock, and the horrors of wartime nursing; Alexandra Greville's experiences in a field hospital near Saint-Omer are graphically conveyed. Goodreads user CLM ( puts her finger on what doesn't quite work. Nonetheless, I'm glad to have read this and plan to read the other books in the series. Many thanks Stephanie! ...more
Jan 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Gabriele
A great book by Phillip Rock. Thanks Gabriele for this great recommendation.
Sarah u
"Oh damn," he whispered fervently, tossing his cigarette into a weed-choked drainage ditch.


There were times when he despised the uselessness of his profession in an age when war was a virtual impossibility.

On June 28th 1914, the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated; an event which soon plunged the Western world into 'the war to end all wars'. This war was catastrophic, a Total War which ended the lives of many millions and touched the lives of everyone who
Jun 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war-time, romance
"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 realized 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 w
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This 1978 novel was most certainly, in my opinion, the basis for the Julian Fellowes PBS series, Downton Abbey. That's not a bad thing since Phillip Rock's trilogy, which was out of print for a number of years, has been recently reprinted because of the tremendous popularity of this international hit. Was it like Downton Abbey? Well, yes and no. The setting and the characters were very similar but "The Passing Bells" delved into to disturbing war scenes that may be interesting to some but I was ...more
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The advent of Downton Abbey has brought WWI English history to a new level of popularity. I will admit here and now that I have never seen an episode of the show. I think I am the last person on the face of the Earth.... That being said I am glad that it led to the re-release of this trilogy of books purported to be similar to the show. I can't write to that for the obvious reasons but I can tell you that The Passing Bells is book worth reading whether you watch BBC television shows or not.
Margaret Sullivan
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
After reading two different bloggers squeeing over the re-release of this book, I had to give it a try. It was, as advertised, a really good read.

It is being sold as "for those who like Downton Abbey" and while it touches on some of the same themes, such as the breakdown of the British social system after WWI, it is a great deal less sentimental and soapy than DA.

The action revolves around the Grevilles, the family of the Earl of Stanmore at Abingdon Pryory, and their relatives and
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock as part of a read-along. I was drawn to the book because I love Downton Abbey, and this book is set around the same time period. I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting this book to be like, maybe more romantic than anything, but it was different than I imagined. The Passing Bells focuses on the Grevilles family, not only the immediate family but also the household staff. When War is declared the household breaks apart and goes in different directions t ...more
Chuck B
Aug 18, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I first read The Passing Bells (refers to bells rung at funerals, and to the millions who died in World War I), and its sequel, Circles of Time, 25 or more years ago, and have reread them a number of times since. They remain some of my all-time favorites.
A young Chicago newspaperman, son of a neer-do-well artist and a French seamstress, decides to take a sabatical and visit Europe and an aunt, married to a well-off English lord, in the summer of 1914, and is caught up as the world goes to war.
May 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
As a huge Downton Abbey fan, I was interested in reading this novel, as many reviews claimed it was VERY similar. There were some similarities (particularly in the beginning of the novel), however, I found that Rock chose to focus more on WWI and the battles/how the war changed people.

At first, the cast of characters is a bit daunting - I found it hard to keep track of who was who because I was only able to read a few pages at a time due to real life commitments. Once you get the cast down, the
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The Book Travelers: February 2015 -- The Passing Bells, by Philip Rock 14 8 Apr 23, 2015 07:50AM  
Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 1 Feb 15, 2015 04:49PM  
Clean Reads: the passing bells 1 30 Feb 16, 2014 06:40PM  
Goodreads Librari...: Please fix total # of pages 7 179 Jan 02, 2013 05:15PM  

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Phillip George Rock was born in Los Angeles on 30 July 1927. He grew up in Beverly Hills and England, returned to America in 1940, and served in the U.S. Navy towards the end of World War II.

His first on-screen credit was for Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), directed by John Sturges and starring William Holden and Eleanor Parker. Rock then concentrated on writing novels and, in 1967, published his first

Other books in the series

Passing Bells (3 books)
  • Circles of Time (Passing Bells, #2)
  • A Future Arrived (Passing Bells, #3)