The Emperor’s Riddles – Satyarth Nayak
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If ever one was to think of a Bollywood style retelling of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, in a completely Indian context, Satyarth Nayak’s book would fit the bill.
A father is murdered brutally, leaving behind clues for his daughter to embark on a mission that would lead her to a sacred truth, a truth closely guarded by a secret brotherhood. What’s more, he etches a symbol on his face before dying, to summon his writer friend to help her out, on a journey that requires deciphering of secret codes. Does that ring a bell? Yes, that’s The Emperor’s Riddles for you!
The basic plot resembles Dan Brown’s book, with slight variations and the story essentially is rooted in Buddhism (not Christianity). But it lacks that thrill. There are well researched details and the story moves along smoothly, but it doesn’t keep me hooked in my chair, biting my nails, wondering what will happen next.
Following the gory death of historian Ram Mathur, and eight others before him, his daughter Sia, a scientist, and writer Om Patnaik find themselves in Sarnath in the midst of a puzzle which Sia’s father wanted her to solve. Patnaik and Sia set off on a path stained with blood, poison, mystery and ultimately, enlightenment, a revelation of a two thousand year old secret. From the far away shores of Tamil Nadu to the mountains of Ladakh, the search takes them everywhere, each destination bringing them a little closer to the big secret. Alongside are the policeman, Suri, and the clever, enthusiastic journalist Alia, who are on a quest to find the murderer but miss him quite close. The magic number ‘Nine’ reveals itself everywhere, in all sorts of ways, forming a common thread through the story.
The author has well accomplished the task of running multiple stories together, which occur and recur in a jumble of chapters, till the mystery starts unfolding and all the stories become related, as different moments in history. There are mythological connotations and historical references and legends combined with the reality of today. The book is well put together and has some interesting parts like the solving of riddles. It has its share of twists and turns and the end comes as a real surprise. I only wish that the plot was a little more original.
It’s a good one time read, but falls many miles short of becoming a classic. Nonetheless a commendable debut.