Title: The Final Puzzle
Author: Juhi Ray
Publisher: Juhi Ray LLC
Genre: Historical Fiction
First Publication: 2019
Book Summary: The Final Puzzle
Set in 16th century Hindustan (the modern-day Indian subcontinent), Emperor Akbar discovers an incomplete astrological chart. It may hold a secret that could threaten his life and the Empire. He assigns the sensitive task of uncovering the chart’s mystery to his brilliant adviser, Mahesh Das. This journey takes Mahesh to the heartland of Hindustan. Mahesh however, was not expecting to fall in love. He is torn between his heart and his loyalty.
Why did Emperor Akbar bestow the title of Raja Birbal on Mahesh Das? His closeness to the Emperor and meteoric rise spark jealous enemies to target him.
Amid the backdrop of religious tensions in the Empire, Akbar moves forward to promote religious tolerance and root out corruption. Rebellions against Akbar and personal attacks against Raja Birbal become more common. After multiple attempts on Birbal’s life, his enemies believe they are successful.
In 1586, while battling the hilly tribes of the Northwest frontier, Raja Birbal is declared dead. But his body was never found. What really happened?
Book Review: The Final Puzzle
There’s a reason why some stories maintain their staying power: although we may have heard them often, there is something in them that keeps us coming back again and again. Contemporary authors are always finding new ways of approaching classic themes because there’s just so much to work with. No one author, or even one generation, could mine it all.
Which brings us to The Final Puzzle, an offering from author Juhi Ray, whose writing is at its best when she is exploring this territory. While there’s canon lore on Akbar and his one of the nine gems Birbal, and Author Juhi has clearly done her homework, there’s a lot of wiggle room there, too, for imaginative storytelling. And that is precisely what we get here.
“The noblest aim of the human intellect is the pursuit of truth”
Juhi Ray depicts Birbal as brilliant person from ordinary circumstances who gets swept up into extraordinary things, by virtue of his friendship to Akbar. This is a neat perspective from which to explore people and personalities that have, over time, become larger than life. It works really well. As the novel begins, Akbar, Birbal, and co. are introduced smoothly. The kind of world they live in demands certain things of them. I really loved meeting each character, knowing who they would grow up to be, and what they would do (I hope there will be a sequel to this book).
The pacing is fast and measured, and the tension between major plot points builds gradually. By the time you get to the end, you have a good sense of all the players, personalities, and plot threads, without ever feeling like you were whacked over the head with loads of exposition. This is no mean feat, as there was a lot to set up. Author Juhi Ray’s choice of where to end, and the way she wrote it, is just beautiful, and will touch any reader who has the slightest inkling of Akbar and Birbal. But If you need to leave the 21st century for a while and revisit classic themes and legends, this is a very good choice, and it works on multiple levels.