The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
Mitchell's story is, in a word, vivid. As The Millions pointed out, the novel has a cinematic feel. The sentences sparkle and the plot, told in the present tense, continuously veers off unexpectedly. It's not hard to follow (keep a list of characters, like this helpful fellow did, though; there are many), but sometimes it is hard to stay engaged.
Here's why: Mitchell constantly interrupts himself to provide detail. He stuffs bits of narration into dialogue mid-sentence (see below for an example) and describes in several one-line sentences in a row that read at times like poetry (see below for an example of this, too). These tricks in themselves aren't annoying, but you never quite get used to them, and they tend to distract from the flow of the story. And when you're telling a story about something as abstruse as Dutch-Japanese-British relations in 1799 at an obscure trading post, doing whatever you can to keep your reader with you seems to be the tack to take.
Basically what that all means is that Mitchell's snappy, crackling writing was both a blessing and a curse; both a hindrance to me totally investing myself in the story, but also the way by which I was able to find my way in and derive the enjoyment I did. That said, there are parts — a daring rescue attempt, the aforementioned naval battle — that speed along with thriller-like speed. But the scene-setting — and there's quite a bit to recreate the 18th-19th century world as vividly as Mitchell is able to — and jumps in story (Mitchell basically re-starts the story at the beginning of each of the three "acts" of the novel) cause a few lags in reading enjoyment, at least for me.
This was my first foray into Mitchell, and I am in awe. Thousand Autumns isn't my favorite book of the year by any stretch, but it's easy to see the genius behind it. The imagination and research that must've been required to tell this tale is simply stunning. There's always two ways to evaluate a book — the way that's objective as possible, putting yourself in the shoes of other readers, and the "it was/wasn't my cup 'o' tea" way. Objectively, it's a stunning book, but one I wish I would've liked more than I did.
Example of in-dialogue narration:
"So," Vorstenbasch settles himself, "after three days ashore, how are you finding life on the company's farthest-flung outposts?"
"More salubrious"—Jacob's chair creaks—"than a posting on Halmahera, sir."
Example of several one-line sentences in a row that read like poetry:
Steam rises from a bowl of water; light is sliced on the bright razor.
On the floor, a toucan pecks beans from a pewter saucer.
Plums are piled in a terra-cotta dish, blue-dusted indigo.