Hugo-, Nebula-, and Locus Award winning author Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and once wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat. He is the author of many books, including Empress of Forever, the Craft Sequence of fantasy novels, and, with Amal El-Mohtar, the internationally bestselling This is How You Lose the Time War. His dreams are much nicer than you’d expect.
His most recent work, Last Exit, is available on March 8 wherever you get your books.
We learn weird things from our friends. At some point, not long after college but when I was still living with many of the strange and wondrous people I met in college—by which I mean actually living: we packed about ten of us into one capacious rental in Cambridge Massachusetts for one notably eventful period—I picked up the British Naval Toasting Round.
None of us were British, though most of us went through that phase common to bookish childhoods in which one reads so much UK literature that one becomes convinced that colour is a different, nobler, stranger thing than color, and that gray and grey are different shades. Nor were any of us affiliated in any direct way with the British, or any other, navy. Perhaps it was the drinking.
Certainly, it was the tradition of the thing. We were—still are—the kind of friends who kick around twelve-year-old references to that thing that happened in the West End Games Star Wars session one time. References and traditions let us bring the past into the future and mess around with it a bit. So, at Sarah’s request, I’m here to share with you my sense of the toasting round, along with some entirely accurate traditions about the days of the week.
“To our ships at sea.”
What, you don’t have ships at sea? Are you certain? Because all the rest of us… well, I mean. We thought it was clear on the invitation. Oh well. I’m sure it will be fine. Don’t think twice about it. None of the rest of us will. With our ships, our ships at sea.
This is the Monday toast because Monday is the day of the moon, and the sea only exists due to a part-time lend-lease sort of situation with the moon, forty years from now when the bubble bursts and there isn’t a sea any more, just a giant hole and a bunch of confused fish, and we all have to sort out exactly what happened / how to sustain life on earth in a general thoroughgoing fashion sans large bodies of water. Said docudramas will lead to everyone briefly learning what a ‘traunch’ is, until they seize upon their first opportunity to forget.
Some middle Tennessee communities believe it to be of profound significance whether a person believes the week begins on Sunday, or Monday. By ‘some middle Tennessee communities,’ I really mean me. I don’t know what it means, yet, but I’m certain it means something.
“To our sailors.” (‘To our men’ until 2013.)
Tuesday is ancient Borogravian leg day, ancient Borogravian “Tues” being cognate with the English “Thews.” That’s not a real fact. It’s just where I end up every time I try to remember how you get from “Tyr’s Day” to Tuesday and forget the intermediate stage of passing through the Anglo-Saxon Tyr equivalent god Tiu, which is, come to think of it, basically what you get when you try to say “Tyr” with a plummy accent.
You can tell the above fact about Borogravia is apocryphal because mainstream publishing releases books on Tuesdays, and no one in publishing would ever skip leg day.
“To ourselves!” (Traditional response: for no one else is likely to trouble themselves in our favor!)
Wednesday is the best Addams, and has the best toast. Except possibly for the next one, and Morticia.
Wednesday is sacred to Wotan. As such, you would expect Wednesday to be a bad day on which to eat ravens. However, since ravens are carrion eaters, much the same could be said about any day of the week, unless your idea of an auspicious meal includes a lacing of intestinal parasites, which, I would never kinkshame.
Also, eating ravens would be a bad idea because they have intergenerational memory, problem-solving capacity, and can roost inside your dreams.
Now, since Odin’s ravens perch on his shoulders to offer him the news of the world they see on their travels, and given my own limited experience of the consequences of having birds perch on one’s shoulders, I would expect it to be a good, or at least sacred (if perhaps unsanitary), sign were a bird to poop on your shoulder on a Wednesday. Particularly if a raven were to do so! Though, if a raven is pooping on you because you are dead, and it is eating your eyeballs, any good fortune so provided may not be enough to counteract the general tenor of your condition.
Wednesday is new comic book day.
“To a bloody war or a sickly season!”
This toast exists, I am told, because in the olden days you were promoted for one of two reasons: either you successfully played a range of political minigames and demonstrated your worth beyond a doubt to various superior officers, and they happened to have a billet open for you that wasn’t otherwise earmarked for a cronyism hire—or your boss caught a cannonball, or dysentery, or a dysenterious cannonball—yes I am certain that is a word, I am a writer—and anyway someone has to do said boss’s squishily vacated job and it might as well be you.
In The Affair of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, Doctor Watson indicates that Sherlock Holmes’ birthday is on a Thursday. It is traditional in some communities to honor the Great Detective on Thursdays by smoking a pipe of your favorite local and organic smokable and eating a cupcake frosted to resemble a deerstalker cap.
Movies come out on Thursdays. There’s something topical about the ‘sickly season’ toast on the day when you might want to go to a movie theater, but I’m pretty sure the end result joke would be in even more questionable taste than my usual, so I’ll not venture further in that direction.
“To a willing foe and sea room.”
Friday is fish day, laundry day, payday, thank-god-it’s day, Freya’s day, possibly Froh’s day, fried day, freeday. Nothing is released on Friday, save perhaps children from school (when school is a thing) and grown folks from their offices (when those were a thing). One toasts to a willing foe and sea room because, when one has a willing foe, that foe will stand and fight rather than run away, and when one has ‘sea room’ one has, not an expensive beachfront hotel view, but room to maneuver in one’s ship. That one has. At sea.
When one has room to maneuver, one has the power to bring all of one’s mighty weapons to bear at one’s opponent and is likely to win the day. Which leads to the opponent surrendering and leaving you in control of their ship, and a quite possibly generation-altering amount of money thanks to bounties etc. May we all have sea room!
“To our wives and sweethearts.”
This was traditionally followed by the cry of “may they never meet,” in which form you may have encountered it, uttered by wags who play drunken minstrels at Renaissance Faires. This was amended in 2013 by the actual real-deal British Navy to “to our families,” which—well, look, I see and comprehend the instinct there, good show to include the husbands, they might otherwise feel left out and get mopey about the whole thing. But at least from where I’m sitting, either your husband counts as a ‘sweetheart,’ in which case he’s already included in the toast, or he doesn’t, in which case perhaps you should seek out sea room?
“To absent friends.”
Which is what this all comes back around to, in the end. We learn these things from our friends. We joke, we care, and we carry them with us.
And when we raise a glass, wherever we are, we gather back around the table, younger, hairier, darker and differently beautiful.
All of us, on our ships, at sea.
Ten years ago, Zelda led a band of merry adventurers whose knacks let them travel to alternate realities and battle the black rot that threatened to unmake each world. Zelda was the warrior; Ish could locate people anywhere; Ramon always knew what path to take; Sarah could turn catastrophe aside. Keeping them all connected: Sal, Zelda's lover and the group's heart.
Until their final, failed mission, when Sal was lost. When they all fell apart.
Ten years on, Ish, Ramon, and Sarah are happy and successful. Zelda is alone, always traveling, destroying rot throughout the US.
When it boils through the crack in the Liberty Bell, the rot gives Zelda proof that Sal is alive, trapped somewhere in the alts.
Zelda's getting the band back together--plus Sal's young cousin June, who has a knack none of them have ever seen before.
As relationships rekindle, the friends begin to believe they can find Sal and heal all the worlds. It's not going to be easy, but they've faced worse before.
But things have changed, out there in the alts. And in everyone's hearts.
Add Last Exit to your tbr here. Order it from your local independent bookseller, or order it via Bookshop.org to support independent booksellers throughout the US and the UK. For international shipping, you can try Barnes & Noble. If you prefer audiobooks, here’s a Libro.fm link. You can also request Last Exit from your local library — here’s how to get in touch with them. And if you need to order from the Bad River Website, here’s a link that will leverage your order for good.
In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.