Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: The Passing Bells (Greville Family #1) by Philip Rock

This is the original Downton Abbey. In fact, I’d be very surprised if the creator of Downton, Julian Fellows, hasn’t read this and taken some inspiration from it. The time period and setting, particularly in the first third before the war begins, is precisely like Downton and there are notable parallels among some of the large cast of characters, both upstairs and down.

Much like the Earl of Grantham, Anthony Greville, Earl of Stanmore, is expectedly traditional and struggled to adapt to the changing ways of the world. We soon learn his wife, just like Cora Crawley, is a wealthy American, and that their marriage was a love match. Unlike Robert Crawley though, Anthony doesn’t have to worry about who will inherit his title and home since he has more than one son and a spirited daughter.

Downstairs, we learn that the stiff valet, who could be Mr. Carson’s twin, doesn’t approve of the young, new chauffeur who is perhaps a mix of Downton’s two Toms (Thomas Barrow and Tom Branson). In fact, most of the staff bristle at the chauffeur’s boastful nature, except the new, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed maid who is much like Daisy.

What sets it apart from Downton is that the Greville’s story deals much more with War World I, taking us to the trenches and hospitals on the war front. Downton is strictly about the ongoings at Downton, Passing Bells is more of a WWI novel. It’s really about how the war effects and changes the lives of the many people connected by this great house. Additionally, one thing Abington Pryory is missing is their own Violet Crawley and therefore much of the humor she brings to the TV show is also absent. On the other hand, Passing Bells has a valuable addition in the form of an American cousin who spends time on the front lines as a journalist, giving us an American perspective of the war too.

Still, it will certainly appeal to Downton fans and I highly recommend it to anyone suffering from Downton withdraw during the off season.

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