I'm sorry to say that this was one of the weakest entries of this year's Windhammer competition. However, it was not wholly without merit. What I like about Dating a Witch is the focus on the two main characters, on their relationship and all the dialogue. In my opinion, gamebooks are all too often shallow affairs with no real attention to character and dialogue, so having one very focused on people and a relationship was very refreshing. At the same time, this was in some ways its greatest weakness, because much of the dialogue came across as stilted and unrealistic.
It's hard to say how much of this weakness in writing the dialogue comes from language barriers, and how much from the author's own mind. Ivailo is another member of the Bulgarian gamebook community, and I really have to give him props for reaching beyond his comfort zone to try writing a gamebook in a language that is not his own. That said, I think his command of English isn't quite up to the task of bringing the dialogue to life.
It took a major leap of suspension of disbelief to keep reading past the first section, but when I pushed through and actually read the entire story, I was pleasantly surprised. It has a very engaging plotline with an interesting premise. I like romance in gamebooks (I'm a big softie at heart) so this is in some ways right up my alley. The author gives the two characters an irresistable appeal to one another, something out of the ordinary that draws them together. At first, this comes off as sappy and melodramatic, not to mention unrealistic, but I think some of that might be due to the stilted dialogue (which again comes back to language issues.) When I was able to suspend disbelief, I actually found the connection between the two characters to be very powerful.
Later on some dangerous events start happening, such as an attack by a demonic entity against someone on the street nearby. The injection of a little danger into the story was definitely a strong addition, but I would have liked to see a little more explanation of what and why. It would be nice to have that attack tie into the plot somehow, rather than just being, "and here's something else which happened."
I was amused to see the female lead's interest in gamebooks ;) A little bit of the author projecting there, perhaps? On a side note, the board game/gamebook which they play together once you get up into Lauren's apartment actually sounded really fun... I wonder, does that exist, or is it something the author made up for purposes of the story? If it doesn't exist, I kinda want to go make it...
I also liked the magic in the world. The demonologists powers, and the witch's, were both very interesting. My only request there (like so many other gamebooks this year) would be to please, please please fill the reader in right at the start. We have no knowledge of what the world is or what to expect other than the briefest of mentions that William is a demonologist. When does the story take place? Are we in modern times? Ancient times? Where? South Africa? Tokyo? Some other planet? You don't need to make a big deal of these things if they're not important to the story, but the basic questions of when and where should at least be addressed right away.
To sum it up, the powerful and mysterious attraction these two characters feel for each other at the start comes across as sappy and unrealistic at first, partly due to weak dialogue (which may be due to language barriers), but if you are able to suspend disbelief (a major suspension, I know, but possible) then the attraction actually becomes quite powerful, and it's a lot of fun to go along with these characters on their first date and see how it goes. The world is interesting, filled with magic and danger, I just wish it were a lot more fleshed out, with some sense of why these things are happening and how it all works. Mostly, I wish I could read Ivailo's work in his native language, or as translated by a capable translator. More than the other second-language authors this year, I feel like this piece suffers from the language barrier.