The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula LeGuin, 1971
Each of the first 4 volumes is "my favorite" in its own way. I didn't think I would like Tombs intially because it starts so far away from the dragon/wizard/magic world of A Wizard of Earthsea, but Tenar/Arha is, to me, Leguin's most fully-realized and sympathetic female character. It's interesting that she is better at male characters, and that her greatest books all have male protagonists, since later she adopted so many feminist trappings.
Tales of Earthsea continues the revisionist trend started by Tehanu. The tradition of male wizards is recast with a strong flavor of paternalistic oppression. The association of women/witches with the "Old Powers" of the earth is now positive. Yet in Wizard and particularly Tombs, it's clear that the "Old Powers" are not just amoral but evil. There's even a little Lovecraftian overtone:
The Earth is beautiful, and bright, and kindly, but that is not all. The Earth is also terrible, and dark, and cruel. The rabbit shrieks dying in the green meadows. The mountains clench their great hands full of hidden fire. There are sharks in the sea, and there is cruelty in men's eyes. And where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds; there places are made in the world where darkness gathers, places given over wholly to the Ones whom we call Nameless, the ancient and holy Powers of the Earth before the Light, the powers of the dark, of ruin, of madness....
I do admire LeGuin's desire to rework a mythic patriarchal society into a more egalitarian one, and she does as good a job as I can imagine. But bringing it about within the lifetime of one character, when the narrator's beliefs have clearly changed so drastically, doesn't quite work for me. Tombs is free of the faint whiff of didacticism that passes through some of Tehanu, and even more so Tales. Nonetheless I'm glad to know, in reading Tombs now, that Ged and Tenar will eventually come together, and it's fascinating to see the unexamined subtext of wizard asexuality (which was very convenient for the young adult market in 1971!)
I am mostly awed all over again by how right every word is without being flashy, and how true every aspect of the book seems. LeGuin has the power to create archetypes that resonate more deeply within me than anyone else's. So much happens, especially psychologically, in the last twenty pages. And how does she manage to show Tenar's true character, from the very beginning, with the tiniest and subtlest of cues?