A Thousand Splendid Suns isn't a sequel to The Kite Runner, despite the similarities in their covers, unless you consider Afghanistan a character in both novels - which it is, but I didn't get as strong a sense of it in A Thousand Splendid Suns. I don't think I got as strong a sense of any of the characters in this novel as I did in Hosseini's first book, to be honest.
Since I tend to be drawn in by women's stories more than men's, I actually found the storyline of Hosseini's second novel more compelling than that of his first. Mariam and Laila are two women from very different backgrounds who find themselves sharing a home and family in Kabul during years of war and oppression, especially for women.
Mariam grew up in a hut with her mother, the barely-acknowledged, unschooled child of a prosperous businessman in nearby Herat and his former maid. When her mother dies, rather than take her into his home, her father allows his wives to arrange for the marriage of 15-year-old Mariam to the much older Rasheed, a widowed shoemaker from Kabul. Among their neighbors there is the family of young Laila, who is growing up in a time that her father tells her is a good one for women (even if the Communists who took over Afghanistan in the 1980's weren't so good for the country overall). When Laila loses her family to the ongoing war - first between the Afghan rebels and the Soviets, and then the Afghan factions turning on one another - Rasheed brings her into his home and makes her his second wife.
This novel covers a period in recent Afghan history that wasn't developed much in The Kite Runner, whose characters escaped the country in 1980 and were in the US during most of the war years. However, most of the drama of this novel is domestic in nature, and Hosseini piles it on. Loved ones are lost to illness, suicide, and war. Characters face so much misfortune that it's worrisome when things are going well for them. And when things look darkest, the Taliban show up, so before long it's even worse. At times, it all verges on melodrama.
The central relationship of the book is between Mariam and Laila, and I felt that it rang true, even though the concept of two women uniting against the man who rules - and ruins - both their lives isn't a new one (for me, The Color Purple came to mind as another example). At the same time, neither character seemed fully fleshed-out, and their mutual husband Rasheed came across as a pretty standard bad guy. Having said that, though, I have to remember the different cultural perspective here, and that this story involves a society where roles and expectations are much more rigid.
As far as the story's concerned, for all the near-melodrama, it's very involving and I thought it was more of a page-turner than The Kite Runner (less character drive, more plot, I guess). It's well-told, but I don't know that it will stay with people in the same way that Hosseini's previous novel has.