The title of The Love of Stones is not a metaphor. This is, quite literally, a book about people who love stones. Not all stones, i.e. rocks, but jewels -- diamonds and rubies and more. The problem with is that the main character, Katherine Sterne, seems to love or care about nothing else but stones. It is therefore difficult to care much about Katherine.
Katherine is obsessed, for some unknown reason, with obtaining a piece of quite valuable jewelry called the "Three Brethren" among other names, and much too much of the novel centers around her rather lonely and pathetic travels to run down the location of this piece of jewelry. Tobias Hill presents us with the history of this piece of jewelry as well, interwoven within the telling of Katherine's travels. Much of this history is interesting, such as the relating of the betrayal of John the Fearless, who is murdered quite cruelly by the "child dauphin" -- the head of John the Fearless is literally hacked to pieces by an axe (John was still alive after the first chop).
We also are told the story of Daniel Levy and his brother Salman. Their story actually predates Katherine's by a few decades. The events surrounding Daniel and Salman occur in the early
nineteenth century, while Katherine's story occurs in current time. This cleverly offers (together with the ancient history of the Three Brethren) the reader a complete as possible history of events surrounding the piece of jewelry, so that by the novel's end we are fully aware of where the Three Brethren has been and why it is where it is now. The problem is, there is no reason to care. It is, after all, a piece of jewelry. If we cared more about Katherine, if we were given a more compelling motive on her part to want to find this piece of jewelry, if her father had cancer and getting this piece of jewelry was the only way to pay for his care or some such thing, then we might be more interested in her quest. But, as it is, she wants this piece of jewelry for no other reason that her love of stones. Even when she makes love with a man, she seems to be dreaming of rubies more than anything else, the "balas ruby" in particular.
Wonderful descriptive scenes of the Mideast and much of the writing offers evidence of Mr. Hill's background as a poet, but these are not enough to keep the reader absorbed throughout the novel. The ending of the book is also a bit forced. It drives home the ultimate vacancy of Katherine's motivation (her love of stones), but the reader is already well aware of that emptiness and so it is a bit anticlimactic. This sudden change of spirit on Katherine's part also seems a little false, although it is well done. The conclusion is a bit too pat in the way all the plot's strings come together.
Events surrounding Daniel and Salman are more interesting than those surrounding Katherine. At one point, for example, the two brothers, having found a cache of jewels, must decide whether to leave their home and follow their dreams, or stay to take care of their mother, Rachel, whom they love but who will not leave the home she has lived in her entire life. This is true human drama. Unfortunately, it is the exception to most of the events of the book, much of which centers around the rather cold and uncompelling motivation of the love of stones. The novel ultimately takes on the attribute of its subject and it ends up resting in the reader's hands like a rather cold, albeit somewhat beautiful, shiny bauble. One can appreciate a piece of jewelry but it is a difficult thing to really have true affection for.