The Final Puzzle: An Untold Akbar Birbal Story

Written by Juhi Ray
Review by India Edghill

At the height of the 16th-century Mughal Empire, wise and witty Raja Birbal is Emperor Akbar’s dearest friend and most trusted advisor. But because Birbal is a Hindu, the Muslims of Akbar’s court distrust him and constantly try to show him as anything from foolish to treasonous. Emperor Akbar allows the court to test Raja Birbal, but each time Birbal emerges victorious, having revealed the foolishness and treachery of his accusers. When the ending of an incomplete astrological prophecy needs to be discovered, it’s Birbal who heads out on a picaresque search for the answer. In the process, he discovers true love. But how can Akbar spare his old friend and counselor?

The Final Puzzle is an enjoyable, often witty ramble through the Mughal Empire that taught me about something new: the Akbar-Birbal folk stories. There are two main themes to the tales: getting out of a difficult situation using intelligence, and making one’s enemies look silly.  The novel ties the Akbar-Birbal tales to the history of the period while considering the last mystery of Raja Birbal’s life. For centuries, it’s been assumed he died in battle, but his body was never found. Could there be another answer? Ray offers a novel solution to Raja Birbal’s ultimate riddle.