American writer Martin Rilke has made his journalistic mark, earning worldwide fame with his radio broadcasts, and young Albert Thaxton seeks to follow in his footsteps as a foreign correspondent. Derek Ramsey, born only weeks after his father fell in France, and Colin Ross, a dashing Yankee, leave their schoolboy days behind and enter fighter pilot training as young men. The beautiful Wood-Lacy twins, Jennifer and Victoria, and their passionate younger sister, Kate, strive to forge independent paths, while learning to love—and to let go.
In their heady youth and bittersweet growth to adulthood, they are the future—but the shadows that touched the lives of the generation before are destined to reach out to their own.
I was quite sad to finish this book but not for the reasons I expected. I loved "The Passing Bells," the first book in the series and very much enjoyed its sequel "Circles of Time." By the time I was able to get my hands on the third and final book in the series I thought it would be quite hard to say goodbye to the characters.
I mistakenly assumed that Rock would at least honor readers' commitment to the characters they'd been following through World War One and the 1920s. Instead, he introduces an entire new set of characters - the children of the Grevilles, Wood-Lacys and others from the first two books - and proceeds to rush through not only their introductions but ten years of their lives in about four hundred and fifty pages.
Rock's weaknesses are even more noticeable without the bulwark of his fine characterizations to hold up the book. Couples meet and fall in love almost instantly. It's impossible to tell the couples apart because they all talk to each other in the same overheated, melodramatic ways. The battle scenes lack the heart-breaking intensity of the WWI battle scenes - possibly because the war starts so quickly in the book and doesn't seem to terribly concern any of the characters since they're so busy sorting out their own personal problems.
Meanwhile, we barely see the older generation - Anthony and Hanna Greville, the old guard who have seen so much change. What an extraordinary opportunity to show just how much the world changed for these two people who were born in the 1860s but (presumably) lived long enough to see the dawn of the Atomic Age. Or Martin Rilke, whose career as a journalist the reader has seen develop over the course of three books. He's reduced to giving radio broadcasts that function as information dumps to let the reader know where they are in the timeline. The books ends with a death that echos back to a loss in the first book but Rock doesn't even allow the reader time to understand the implications of that loss. The book ends almost immediately afterward.
I'd be interested to know if Rock had some sort of deadline or was in failing health because "Future" is of a noticeably different quality than the other books. I came to "The Passing Bells" trilogy concerned that it was a reprint of a cheesy '70s series trying to make money off the Downton Abbey craze. The first two books were fine works of fiction but the final entry in the trilogy left a sour taste, affirming all my worst suspicions.
Unfortunately, readers who have read the first two books will probably want to finish the trilogy - I would suggest finding a way to buy it used or borrow it from a library.